Archive | 10:35 AM

Book Review: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro (3/5)

18 Jan

I can’t remember when I grabbed this book exactly. It must have been after I heard Ishiguro speak since it’s not a signed copy. I’m guessing I found it on a used book sale shelf at the library at some point. I knew it was one of his earlier books and much different than his popular books. Since I’ve been a fan of some books and not others, I figured it was worth a shot.

Cover image via Amazon

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other books by Ishiguro reviewed on this blog:

The Burried Giant
The Remains of the Day
Never Let Me Go Book Club Reflection And Movie Review
Meeting Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary from Amazon:

From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize–winning novel The Remains of the Day, here is the story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. In a novel where past and present confuse, she relives scenes of Japan’s devastation in the wake of World War II.

This novel had a wonderfully slow pace. It was perfect for reading before bed and helping me relax. There was more dialogue than description and Ishiguro did well to keep me aware of what character was speaking when. I liked the sparse description because the conversations people were having were the most important. The ending made me think a lot, which I wasn’t ready for. It was a bit of a twist, but I should have expected that from Ishiguro.

I felt the characters were very believable. Etsuko didn’t have much of a personality but everyone around her did, especially Sachiko who I’m still not sure how I feel about. The relationship between the two women seems to be the center of the book, but Etsuko’s relationship with her husband comes under scrutiny as well. It didn’t bother me that Etsuko was rather flat. Even though she’s more-or-less the main character, the story seems to be what she sees and not who she is.

Ogata was the most interesting character to me. He was so polite to Etsuko but you could tell he was very angry and upset with what was happening in his country and feeling like it was out of his control. The way he brings up the article criticizing him, it’s obvious that he’s very upset about it, more than he’s letting on. He’s also frustrated with his son and what he perceives as disrespect through his son’s long work hours and refusal to play chess with him in the evening. I thought it was really eye-opening to see a father-in-law act this way toward his son and daughter-in-law and also telling about shifts in ideology in Japan after WWII with how he spoke about the article and his colleague.

There weren’t characters I related to well in this story. I wanted to relate to Etsuko but her personality was so flat that I wasn’t able to. Niki was probably the closest to me in age and life, but she was cold to her mother and tht’s so opposite of me that I couldn’t relate to her. 

Me, Ishiguro, and my friend Nicole

Hearing about Sachinko’s relationship with Frank and her uncle was the most interesting to me because it was so unclear what was going on. I started to unravel her relationship with her husband and why she was living in her cottage, but I’m not sure I ever really figured it out. And I’m not sure I completely understood the ending, either. Though I enjoyed how much it made me scratch my head and think of a few different ways it could have played out.

I thought Ogata’s plotline fell flat and that left me disappointed. I wanted him to confront his son or his former student more. I wanted him to defend himself. But in the end, he left. I know I was probably supposed to get more out of what he said and how his relationship with his son was indicative of changing political beliefs in Japan, but it was too sublt for me.

I was a little confused by the ending of this book which obscured the theme for me. I’m going to spoil it a bit here so skip this paragraph to avoid spoilers. When the modern narrator says she remembers taking her daughter to the harbor, I was so confused. I figured there were a few different ways to interpret it. One was that Etsuko was talking about her daughter, still enutero, going with her. The second is that Sachiko is our modern narrator and Mariko and Keiko are the same person. Third was that Etsuko somehow adopted or stoke Mariko and changed her name to keep Sachiko from finding them. Any way you shake it down, it’s a bit of an odd ending and could mean many things. In the first case, it’s about memory and how our memories of things are always rosier than the actual event. In the two later cases, it’s about how we can change our futures and try our best to do the best we can for the next generation but it might not work out. So I’m left a little confused by this book.

Writer’s Takeaway: Having a bland narrator so you can focus on a secondary character is a legitimate way to tell a story about someone without using their eyes. I’m thinking of Nick in The Great Gatsby. Ishiguro does something similar here with Etsuko, telling the story of the much more interesting Sachiko without Sachiko narrating or having to explain herself all the time. It keep her mysterious and more intriguing.

I enjoyed this book, especially it’s direct writing and light tone. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1940-1959 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts: 
A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro | Sushu Blog 
Review: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro | Thoughts on Papyrus 
Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of the Hills – Thoughts on a Roundabout Narrative | Constructed Heroisms 
A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro | Savidge Reads 

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