Thursday, March 11, 2021

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

Back in 2009 I read The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go and really enjoyed them, and when I heard that Ishiguro had written a fantasy novel, 2016’s The Buried Giant, I read that shortly after its release. I remember them fondly and when Ishiguro won the Nobel in 2019, I thought, based on memories of those books that he was a good choice. I picked up a copy of A Pale View of Hills, his debut, at a library sale not long after I read Never Let Me Go, but hadn’t gotten around to it. After hearing an interview between him and Neil Gaiman last weekend about the release of his newest novel, I finally read this, and I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner. It is an excellent novel, especially considering it was his first.

What I remembered about the previous Ishiguro novels I’d read were the broadest possible plot outlines and the sense that he conveyed loss, shame and guilt as well as anyone I’d read. I need to go back and reread those, because, even in his debut he’s masterful at having characters never saying precisely what they mean and constant misdirection while still illuminating the trauma and loss they experience. I’m sure that his work will repay rereading.

The central events of A Pale View of Hills are the bombing of Nagasaki and the suicide of the narrator’s daughter. These are rarely mentioned directly, but it’s clear from early on that those are the substance of everything the narrator and other characters are not saying. The narrator, Etsuko, is a Japanese widow who lives in England after the death of her second husband. She is visited by her surviving daughter and is haunted by the memory of her eldest daughter who had killed herself shortly before the beginning of the book. The bulk of the novel recalls her first marriage to a Japanese man and her friendship with a woman who had a young child in post WWII Nagasaki, around the time of the Korean War. The ending could be taken in at least two different ways, especially as Ishiguro pointedly speaks of the unreliability of memory.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s meditative and gut wrenching, but never maudlin. It is a serious exploration of how memory and trauma interact and the ways people suppress and talk around the things that consume them. It’s also about change that happens between generations for good and ill. I’m going to read all of Ishiguro’s books, I think. Next up is his newest, Klara and the Sun and then either on to his second novel, An Artist of the Floating World or a reread of Remains of the Day.

Highly Recommended. Upon reflection, Canon Worthy.

Owned But Previously Unread 2021 9

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