Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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A Pale View Of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on August 19, 2008

I love reading Kazuo Ishiguro and the more I read his books the more I find him interesting in a very quaint way. I know of no other writer in my limited range of reading who so consistently and so ably handles the theme of “loss” as Ishiguro does. In fact, I think twice before I really take up reading Ishiguro. He disturbs me during the read and also for a long while after the last page is turned shut. One cannot but become pensive. For Ishiguro has that great ability to lead the reader very gradually into a world that is filled with grief and sadness. My initial brush with Ishiguro was through “The Remains Of the Day“. Even to this day I believe it is one of my finest reads and this was followed by “When We were Orphans” and now “A Pale View of Hills

Etsuko – the protagonist of “A Pale View of Hills” is a middle-aged Japanese woman who has come to England long ago with her second husband who is English. She has two daughters – Keiko with her first husband Jiro and Niki with her second husband. Both Keiko and Niki grow up in England and for reasons made unknown to the reader, Keiko commits suicide. This triggers the sad reminiscence of Etsuko’s life of one hot summer in Nagasaki —- a Nagasaki that is recovering from the horrendous impact of the atom bomb. The reminiscence is about a good friend Sachiko and her troubled child Mariko. There are parallels between Mariko and Keiko in terms of a troubled childhood. Sachiko herself has fallen on hard times and finds it hard to make both ends meet. Sachiko is looking to emigrate to USA with the help of Frank whose full identity is never revealed. This emigration in some sense is a form of escape. Escape from a life that has turned harsh and a country that is changing but too steeped in its own traditions and in many ways rigid. In the book Frank is always portrayed as a distant entity and not a human being in flesh and blood. Mariko hates Frank. Towards the end Sachiko moves along with Mariko to Kobe in anticipation of emigration to USA. One never knows if Sachiko finds peace and solace that she longs for. Ishiguro never makes it clear to the readers under what circumstances Etsuko meets her English husband and what happens to Jiro. Using words minimally Ishiguro builds a brilliant contrast between Keiko and Niki and also to a certain extent the varying cultural settings of UK and Japan . Niki is independent and fiercely committed to her freedom where as Keiko’s portrayal is that of a meek girl immersed in herself. In a conventional sense “A Pale View of Hills” does not have a concrete story with a definitive beginning, middle and an end. Ishiguro never allows the reader to get a grip on the flow of the novel. Yet the more I mulled, the more this book appealed to me

First and foremost is Ishiguro‘s depiction of the elliptical nature of the conversations. None of the characters say anything directly. Everything is hesitatingly suggestive. The picture gets painted yet it remains hazy. It is like trying to watch a clear scenery through a glass that has a thin layer of vapour on it

Second, Ishiguro does a great job of building an accurate picture of the Japanese society that is changing. The conversations between Jiro and his father Ogata-san, Jiro and his visiting friends or Ogata-san and Shigeo Matsuda – a student of Ogata-san portray this society and its traditions quite brilliantly 

Third, in what is appearing to be the trademark of Ishiguro, I once again got to enjoy the brilliant first person narration of the story. I am certain that “A Pale View of Hills” being his debut novel, would have made readers take a serious note of this approach to story telling. However, one gets to see this technique approach great heights in Ishiguro’s “The Remains Of The Day” (I will always remember the butler Stevens and his language)

Is “A Pale View of Hills” a faultless novel? I do not think so. In my opinion there are a few flaws. The characters appear devoid of strong emotions. For instance, I never understood Etsuko’s unruffled calm when she watches Sachiko’s effort in drowning Mariko’s kittens. Some of the characters are almost ghostlike. One never gets to know who Frank is, who Niki’s father is and how did he get Estuko to England or why Estuko left Jiro. There is a stoic resignation and emotionlessness in most of the characters.

Despite these “A Pale View of Hills” is a wonderfully pensive novel and need to be read slowly and with great care to see its beauty in portrayal of loss and grief

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