A couple of months ago I read North and South. Then I binge watched the BBC miniseries via Netflix. It was a beautiful thing.
I decided to give that another go.
Last week I read and kind of loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. It was the first time I’d ever read any of his work and I had no idea. I had heard rumblings of his brilliance but you will note that I am a stubborn reader; I don’t like to be bullied into loving authors. I need to get there on my own. Ian McEwan and I? We haven’t found our groove. Charles Dickens and I took a while to figure out but once we got there: magic. Kazuo Ishiguro came out of nowhere to surprise me with his awesome.
OK I’m the only one that’s surprised. Fine.
The Remains of the Day is a kind of love letter to days gone by. In it, Mr. Stevens, a butler in a grand old house, ruminates on the changes that time has wrought on his profession, and what it takes to be a truly great butler. In 1956 he is now the butler of a greatly reduced staff at Darlington Hall, recently sold to an American, Mr. Farraday, after the demise of the last Lord Darlington. As he thinks about the realities of running this house with a staff the fraction of the size he is used to having, he thinks that maybe there’s a solution in a letter he has received from the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton.
The joy of this book is that you are following along as Stevens remembers. His remembrances are coloured by his profession, as are his interactions with other people. Not once while I read the book did I think that Stevens was cold, or a pompous ass.
Which is what I spent a lot of time thinking when I watched the movie. Sir Anthony Hopkins does an admirable job convincing us that he is a butler who puts duty to his employer above all else. But the movie isn’t narrated by him and you lose any personality that Ishiguro was able to inject into the book. I never got the sense in the movie that Stevens was actually in love with Miss Kenton; I barely understood that Miss Kenton was supposed to be in love with Stevens!
At the end of the book, I was devastated that Stevens would put duty about everything else. At the end of the movie it was more like why would Miss Kenton even care at this point? There’s also the matter of what Stevens’ employer, Lord Darlington, was up to. In the books, you’re pretty clear on what happened. In the movie, that whole subplot is incredibly muddy.
It’s a pretty movie – the aerial shots of the grand old house, the beautiful English countryside as Stevens drives through in the 1950s, the way the house and staff used to be and the way the house is in 1956. But for me, the movie was missing the human quality so beautifully illustrated in the book.
I will read more of Mr. Ishiguro’s books (incidentally it was recently announced that he would have a new book published for the first time in about a decade) but I’m not sure if I can sit through another of the adaptations.