I’ve always found it rather odd that the “success” of human beings has historically always been associated with positive extremes. The example of Musk sleeping on the floor of his company has become the global standard of the required extremities for entrepreneurial success. But it’s only on rare occasions that we collectively stop, look around, look back and evaluate what we have come to, what we have gained, and what we have lost. Everything comes rushing in, and that’s what reflects on what that success entails, and what it has cost us.
Diving in, I was curious about how the tale of a butler from the 1950s vacationing for a week could win the Booker prize. As I turned the last page penned by the Nobel laureate, I could see why. Published before the massive excess of the late 90s and early 2000s heralded by the internet, Ishiguro raised questions of vital importance in a manner that was beautiful, funny and accurately captured the aristocratic last of Britain.
Metaphorically, the protagonist, a butler named Stevens, represents a Marxian proletariat in a capitalist world. The strong sense of duty and “dignity”, the sacrifice of personal ambition for a perceived excellence in a profession which detaches one from the deeper pleasures of life, and an unflinching sense of loyalty characterise the duties of this “successful” butler. I couldn’t help but wonder that maybe that’s what we as human beings have become. Polished butlers serving our masters, the demanding expectations of society, and constantly chasing the highs of professional ambition at great personal cost (in this book, Stevens’ father and Miss Kenton)
Disguised in the simple narrative of sketchy recall of memories and conversations with strangers over the period of a week, this book is a powerful and evocative read which might make you think twice before skipping out on that family dinner to meet that work deadline to become an ideal employee.