November 12, 2001

The Remains of the Day

The surprising thing about this widely-honored book is not that it is so good, but that it is so readable. It is the story of a servant who, approaching the end of his career, comes to understand that he has been devoted to the service of a man who was neither very good, nor very wise, and whose schemes have (thank goodness) come to naught. Amidst the wreckage, we find space for pride and redemption and, perhaps, for hope.

The natural parallel for this book is, I think, not Graves or Forster nor Galsworthy, but rather John Le Carré in his prime. This proposition will, no doubt, surprise you, as (I assure you) it surprised me. But the spirit spirit of Mr. Stevens echoes Smiley and Haydon and young Peter Guillam, the dust of lost empire and lost chances and the wreckage of time.