Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Pale View of Hills

Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite novelists and I find reading one of his books is a bit like putting on a pair of old shoes that haven't been worn in a while - slightly strange at first while your feet adjust to the contours and feel of them. Once adjusted to his writing style though, he carries you along with tales which hint at hidden secrets kept tantalising just out of reach.

As with some of his other novels, much of the story told in flashback and explores the reliability of memory and the perspective that comes with age. If the past truly is a different country, though, it is doubly so here, set as it is in post-war Nagasaki.

The main protagonist is Etsuko who following the death of her daughter is reminded of a friendship she formed as a young woman in Japan before she moved to England. The book is largely set in a Japan in the throes of post war reconstruction and the Atom bomb is still a recent memory.

While some of the dialogue may seem overly-formal, stilted and lacking naturalism, I take this to be a reflection of the societal norms in Japan at that time. In places, it's almost as if it had been written in the Japanese and re-translated to English.

Throughout the book seems to be nothing more than a middle-aged woman remembering the events of a summer years below from which she is drawing parallels with the obvious future path of her own life. It is only in the last few pages that the extent of the unreliability of memory - and the ability of the mind to consciously or subconsciously construct it's own perspective of events - become, for want of a better word, clear.

This is book which leaves so many loose ends it's hard to know where to begin to sort them out. Paradoxically, it is this lack of clarity which makes the book all the more satisfying. It's as if by leaving the reader with lots of questions, Ishiguro neatly illustrates his point.


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