The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
If I hadn't read Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, I would have never picked up The Remains of the Day. Because isn't The Remains of the Day that British period piece movie that I pretended to like in high school, even though I couldn't get through it, because it seemed like a smart movie to like?
It turns out that movie was Howard's End.
There is a movie version of The Remains of the Day, and it takes place in the 1950s in Britain and looks back on the 1920s, but I have never tried to watch it.
Never Let Me Go is narrated by a clone looking back on her time at the school/instituation where she was raised. The Remains of the Day is narrated by a butler looking back on his years of service to a lord.
Both are able to understand more by leaving an institution they have had little cause to leave before -- the clone because it's time to leave school and care for other clones donating their organs; the butler because a new employer has lent him his car so he can go on a few days' trip. Both have been trained to dehumanize themselves -- the clone to end her life as an organ donor; the butler to serve an employer. And through this denial of their own humanity, both have missed out on love.
When the butler's father, also a butler, dies -- decades before the novel's trip -- the butler barely pauses in his work, unflappability being essential to a dignified butler and attends to a visiting dignitaries foot pain, having the household's cook close his dead father's eyes. When the clone is taking care of an old friend and a lover as they donate organs until "completion," there is no protest other than a fruitless outing to try to have the lover's donations deferred.
The butler thinks it is satisfactory to have given himself over to a life of service because this was in service to someone with the intention of doing great things for the world. He thinks this until he realizes those intentions were misguided, and so that leaves him in the last stage of his life unsure about it meant for him or anyone else.
You can give your life over to money or to power or to escaping your home life at the office, and at the end of your day, what does that get you?