Reading The Remains of The Day back in my college days was a deeply moving experience. I still recall the feeling of great emptiness after I was done. The girl who recommended this book to me (and gave me her copy to read) was to become one of my good friends. A classy and somewhat distant young lady, she made her boundaries politely but firmly known. She chose you for a friend and not the other way around. I was fine with that and and greatly enjoyed our conversations. She was a voracious reader from very literary family and introduced me to writers I love to this day. We did not stay in touch after college but I am sure she is still the class act she was then with book shelves I would love to browse.
It was interesting to read Kazuo Ishiguro's account of how the book was written - particularly how the denouement came about. Stevens the butler showed his human and romantic side in the end even if many years too late. It was exactly this turn of events that creates that unbearably painful void in the readers mind. This was a reversal from what Ishiguro had originally planned.
I remembered wondering if Stevens is a parable for all of us who miss opportunities in life or wait too long to take ones that do fortunately come our way. There is also the question about the value of integrity and loyalty - Stevens is an embodiment of those qualities. How much is too much. I saw a little bit of my workaholic father in Stevens - he gave up a lot of his personal life for his job. He may have been a happier man if he made different trade-off decisions. Most of the sacrifices he made did not pay any dividends in his life post retirement. He often says he wishes he could experience a few years of happiness before he died - to him "happiness" is the mirage he pursued all his life but never seized it when it stared him in the face.
As scary as it was to admit, I saw a little bit of Stevens in myself then and when I re-read the book many years later. It is easy to see who you don't want to become but protecting yourself against it could be a lot more complicated. Salman Rushdie captures the essence of the book perfectly
"The real story here is that of a man destroyed by the ideas upon which he has built his life. Stevens is much preoccupied by "greatness", which, for him, means something very like restraint."
And that is a theme with universal appeal and hence the brilliance of the book that seems on the surface to be a very simple story. Each of us has a different idea of "greatness" but the zealousness of our pursuit of it is not unlike that of Stevens. So in the sunset of our life we may be weeping uncontrollably to a stranger who cannot fathom the storm that is raging beneath our placid surface. Such is the nature of regret so deep that you cannot run and hide from it.