A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro: A Review

Date finished: April 21st 2017

The things you can find in a charity shop, eh? I didn’t even realise what I’d bought for £2.39 until a couple of weeks later when I opened it up to read. I never expected to find an unread, signed copy of Kazuo Ishiguro languishing unknown in a charity shop, but it was a fantastic find. I doubt it’s worth much more than a normal copy, but I’ll be sure to make sure the shop in question receives its dues.

Ishiguro’s debut novel A Pale View of Hills tells the story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman living in England after the recent suicide of her daughter. Etsuko recalls her previous life in Nagasaki after the war, and her friendship with Sachiko, a wealthy woman fallen on hard times, and her daughter Mariko. But as she explores further back, things become disturbed and a shadow looms in the past.

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Infinitely readable, succinct, and capable of producing an atmosphere from seemingly nothing, Ishiguro excels at making what, in theory seems a straightforward and humdrum tale, into a complex and gripping literary undertaking. As in later work An Artist of the Floating World, he portrays post-war Japan lucidly, subtly touching upon its social mores and the generational tensions that beset the country after the devastating bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though I couldn’t swear to it, I think something of the manner and structure of Japanese speech suffuses the way Ishiguro writes dialogue, which lends a distinctive tone to exchanges.

Ultimately, the two plot threads don’t seem to come together all too well. Allegorically it’s solid, but the minutiae of the story fail to come completely together, notably the sub-plot which Ishiguro seems to revisit as a fully-realised tale in An Artist of the Floating World. However, the lingering doubt and conflicting interpretations that beset the reader after the revelations of the final pages are characteristic of Ishiguro’s canon of work. He admits himself that the novel is a bit messy in places but it’s nonetheless an undeniably strong debut and a worthy forerunner to his other novels.

A Pale View of Hills isn’t a perfect novel, but there’s an underlying brilliance beneath its flaws; a diamond in the rough. Ishiguro is a master of the unreliable narrator format and I always enjoy the themes of memory, identity and society that suffuse his work. Sometimes these come together perfectly, such as in The Buried Giant and sometimes they don’t quite work as well. A Pale View of Hills falls into the latter category – perhaps by virtue of having come to it after reading better, later work by Ishiguro – but that doesn’t diminish the many merits of this powerful debut by an inimitable literary giant.

7/10

 

Related Reading

The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

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