It's taken me awhile to finish reading A Pale View of Hills and it's certainly taken me awhile to mull over what I should write in this review about the book. I like Kazuo Ishiguro, I really do. He has great skill in adding depth to his characters and he sets a scene wonderfully. And while I've enjoyed everything of his that I've read, I have noticed that a lot of the same themes emerging. Unreliable narration, the concept of memory, the calm surface of characters that lies a hidden guilt.
In this, his first novel, we are introduced to Etsuko, a woman living in England who is dwelling on the recent suicide of her eldest daughter, Keiko, whilst spending time with her younger daughter, Niki. A dream prompts Etsuko to reminisce about the events that occurred in Japan 20 years earlier when she still lived in Nagasaki, as she is pregnant with Keiko, when she befriended Sachiko and her daughter, Mariko. Sachiko is at the time preparing to leave Japan for America and asks Etsuko for some help.
Etsuko herself seems quite detached and a little cold as a character. And Sachiko is absolutely cringe-worthy - her complete disregard for her daughter's well-being and the extreme neglect is difficult to read. In fact, I was forced to walk away from this book for many months before I returned to it. Ishiguro's writing style is quite sparse and the whole book has quite a melancholy feel to it. The suicide of Etsuko's daughter, Japan after the bombs had dropped during WWII, the mistreatment of Mariko.
And yet, I couldn't quite abandon this book entirely. It isn't entirely clear, but there is a sense towards the end of the book that the similarities between Sachiko and Etsuko are not just mere coincidence and that in fact Sachiko represents Etsuko and how she behaved with her own daughter Keiko so many years ago. I believe Etsuko's memories and dreams of Sachiko are her own ways of handling her guilt towards how she handled events in her daughter's life and how that may have led to Keiko's suicide.
It's not my favourite Ishiguro novel, it's slightly confusing and more than a little disturbing in parts. But I'm not sorry that I've read it.
Books, Time and Silence
Plays With Needles
Read for: 1% well-read challenge, 100+ reading challenge