This unusual book was the April selection for our Third Tuesday Book Club in Alvin (Texas). It was published back in 1989 and made into an award winning movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Like many of the other members, I had seen the film but never read the book.
At first I was a bit disappointed, for the writing was extremely detailed and tedious. Then I realized the author was doing this on purpose because the main character, the perfect English butler, lived a life that was precise, detailed, and tedious. His relationship with his American gentleman and employer, Mr. Farraday, and his relationship (or lack thereof) with the former Housekeeper, Miss Kenton is often told in flashbacks. The novel opens with the butler taking a “road trip” in a marvelous antique car, loaned to him by his employer. The purpose of this trip was to contact Miss Kenton about coming back to work at the estate after her marriage was over.
Much is said about the “perfect English butler” which our hero prides himself on being. On page 40, the reader finds the following:
“It is sometimes said…Continentals are unable to be butlers because they are a breed incapable of the emotional restraint which only the English race is capable of…” Our Butler is certainly that, “emotionally restrained.” When he hears Miss Kenton sobbing in her room; when his father dies and he continues his duties on an important occasion, he remains calm, serene and unemotional.
There are humorous touches as well. There is a hilarious scene where an elderly Lord or nobleman asks the butler to explain the “birds and the bees” to his young nephew, a task daunting, but undertaken because a request is never refused. Also, many times our butler is so oblivious to reality and truth that he seems dense, yet perfectly satisfied with his reaction and performance.
The novel does not have much of a plot, the characters are shallow, and the main character (I would hesitate to call him the protagonist, for I never “rooted for” him.) is dull, restrained, and loyal to a fault–The Perfect English Butler.