Like his father before him, Stevens is a butler, a career chosen for service and dedication to the highest in the land. Working for Lord Darlington in between the World Wars, he offered loyalty and discretion as various high-powered guests met to discuss the increasing perilous situation in Europe.
Post war the social landscape has changed dramatically. Stevens is still the butler at Darlington Hall, but his master is now a rich American, Mr Farraday. Stevens is encouraged by him to take a brief break, and offers to lend him his car for a motoring holiday. It is ideal timing as Stevens has recently received a letter from a past colleague, Miss Kenton, and sees it as an ideal opportunity to pay her a visit. As he travels through Wilshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall enjoying the sights and countryside he takes time to consider various matters; his service to Lord Darlington, the relationship that he had with his father and his housekeeper.
It is a melancholy story, full of subtlety whilst still having profound meaning and depth. The main character, Stevens, is the quintessentially English butler, composed and proficient; but whilst he can say the right words he lacks feeling and empathy because of his upbringing and career. I am not sure just how he does it, but Ishiguro has managed to capture the class distinctions perfectly in this book. Possibly because he has an outsider’s perspective on how society at the time functioned, or didn’t, and understands the minutia and restraint that a member of the household has to have whilst dealing with the great and the good. It is equally about what isn’t said and happens between the two main characters as it is about what actually happens, and it is impressive just how much emotion can be wrung out of such restrained prose. Good stuff.