Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A Pale View of Hills - Kazuo Ishiguro

Read: November 2006

I have been trying to write this review of A Pale View of Hills for two and a half years now without success and am beginning to think that my problem is simply that I don't have much to say about it, not this long after reading it anyway. Given that Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite writers this is strange, particularly since I remember enjoying it. I read the majority of it on a train between London and Norwich which is one of my favourite places to read. So the idea that is coming to me as I write these words is that perhaps this reviewers block is actually a product of the book itself, a residual opacity caused by the nature of the novel.

That is because A Pale View of Hills is essentially a haunting work about the unreliability of memory. Published way back in 1982 it was Ishiguro's first novel and in style and content it bares close resemblance to An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day. They might almost be a trilogy, those first three novels, focused as they are on characters reappraising their past and struggling with responsibility for the way things turned out.

Etsuko is a middle aged Japanese woman living alone in England. Following the suicide of her eldest daughter Keiko who never really settled in England, she begins to retreat into her past, particularly one hot summer in Nagasaki and the friendship she developed with a once wealthy vagrant women named Sachiko. But as the plot progresses it becomes increasingly clear that we cannot believe everything Etsuko says. Is Sachiko just a mirage Etsuko uses to distance herself from her own past? Nothing is entirely certain.

The prose is typically uncluttered and carefully controlled. I don't think Ishiguro has used an unnecessary word in his life. It is all so slick and well plotted that it is easy to get lost in the haziness, to feel that you too are viewing the events from a distance which can never quite be overcome. A Pale View of Hills provides exactly what its title suggests and if it doesn't live long in the memory, that is more due to the foggy nature of the tale than the quality of the writing.

7 out of 10

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