Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Review: A Pale View of Hills


A Pale View of Hills, by Kazuo Ishiguro
8.5/10, a beautiful, haunting tragedy of a woman reminiscing about her life in Japan

I’ve made no secret of my writer-crush on Ishiguro in reviews of An Artist of the Floating World, Never Let Me Go, When We Were Orphans, and even The Unconsoled. “Pale View” was the last of Ishiguro’s published books on my list at the time I read it (he has a new collection out now), and it was his first published novel.

Some of the rough edges show, the techniques he would perfect in “Remains of the Day.” The narrative is by no means straightforward, skipping back and forth between present day in the West and many years ago in Japan. Etsuko, the main character, has gotten a visit from her daughter, which begins her reminisces of her years in Japan and a young woman she befriended there with her recalcitrant daughter, Mariko. As the narrative winds its way through the past and present, without the urgency of “Artist of the Floating World” or “Remains of the Day,” it is still engaging and fascinating, and it includes an element those later books did not: a touch of horror. Especially in the interactions between Mariko and Etsuko, Mariko behaves oddly (even for an Ishiguro child) and has a creepy fixation on odd details.

Mariko turned over her hand and the spider crawled into her palm. She closed her other hand over it so that it was imprisoned.
“Mariko, put that down.”
“It’s not poisonous,” she said, coming closer to me.
“No, but it’s dirty. Put it back in the corner.”
“It’s not poisonous, though.”
She stood in front of me, the spider inside her cupped hands. Through a gap in her fingers, I could see a leg moving slowly and rhythmically.
“Put it back in the corner, Mariko.”
“What would happen if I ate it? It’s not poisonous.”
“You’d be very sick. Now, Mariko, put it back in the corner.”
Mariko brought the spider closer to her face and parted her lips.

Despite the odd, semi-fantastical nature of the reminisces, Ishiguro still manages to build up to a revelatory climax that is emotional and shattering. Though this isn’t the most masterful of his works, and it takes a good bit of thought to read through, it’s still a terrific, skilful work. And it depresses me that it was his first book because it’s still really good.

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