"You've got to enjoy yourself. The evening's the best part of the day. You've done your day's work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it."
One of my favorites, not just of the Booker winners but of all books. Ishiguro's writing is subtle. Somehow he can get us to feel and understand so much from a narrator who says so little and who avoids acknowledging his own feelings. Stephens is one of my favorite characters in all of literature despite the fact that he is only a butler of a great house. He holds so much emotion even though he won't let it out, as is shown when he carries on his duties despite the decline of his father whom he regards as the perfect example of a butler. However, he cannot constantly keep his feelings inside, and even though he might not understand why he feels the way he does, readers can and can then sympathize with him even when feeling frustrated at his demeanor.
The book begins with Stevens, now an old man, traveling across England to meet up with an old friend, the housekeeper during the home's glory days between the wars, when important men from all over the world met to discuss international affairs. While driving across the country, Stevens thinks back on this time with pride, yet he also feels shame. These conflicting emotions confuse him, and he can never quiet reconcile them. He is proud of his work maintaining the house; only now, looking back, he realizes that his service might not have been as important or as moral as he thought. And almost worse, the home now does not require a great staff. It no longer is important to international affairs, and is more notorious for its suspect past than respected for its greatness. Stevens is now entering the evening of his life, and he approaches this time with immense trepidation. In a way, he is seeking his old housekeeper both as an attempt to bring the wonderful period between the wards back to the present and as an attempt to atone for his indirect involvement in the affairs of the home.
Ishiguro's ability to write about large themes (in this book we see pacifism, bigotry, class structure, duty, and most importantly life, death, and love) without addressing them directly or becoming didactic is what makes him one of the best writers out there today. I have been slightly disappointed after reading his two latest: When We Were Orphans and Never Let Me Go (but even those two were masterfully written and were shortlisted). He still has my complete attention simply because he wrote The Remains of the Day.