Date finished: January 21st 2016
Slowly but surely, I’m building up a cadre of authors I can rely on. If I’m at a loss to know what to read, I can always fall back on a Barnes, or a Pratchett, or a Miéville, among other authors who I can be sure I’ll enjoy. Despite having only read one Ishiguro before, I feel like I can already add him to this list.
An Artist of the Floating World follows celebrated painter Masuji Ono’s waning years in post-war Japan. Against the backdrop of a Tokyo trying to rebuild its shattered identity, Ono sets about getting on with his retirement whilst trying to arrange his daughter’s marriage, tending to his house and garden, and reminiscing over his youth. But between the hushed conversations, and his waning social circle, Masuji begins to reflect on the past, and address his actions as a young artist.
This is my second foray into Ishiguro, after reading The Buried Giant last year, which proved to be one of my favourite books of the year. Ishiguro’s pet themes of memory, identity and regret are on show again, as he tells a slow-burning yet highly readable tale which subtly hints at darker themes. Indeed, Ishiguro barely touches upon the true meaning of the novel, and instead the subtext ruffles the edges of the pages. It’s testament to Ishiguro’s nuanced style that he can allow a story to creep up on you in such a way, slowly letting the pieces fall into place. Ultimately, what Ishiguro is trying to say in An Artist of the Floating World is down to interpretation. But its exploration of the regrets of an old man in a changing world, and to what extent the actions we made in the past need to be accounted for in the present, is a fascinating premise. Is Masuji in denial, or is he finally at peace with himself?
It’s a work of unparalleled precision, and a worthwhile read, but An Artist of the Floating World never makes the leap from being an enjoyable novel to being a great one. Nonetheless, Ishiguro’s inimitable prose and the peeling layers of plot are more than enough to carry this short story, cementing Ishiguro’s reliability as a teller of unique, memorable tales.