Dan Sandman

12: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

In Books, Fiction on 20/03/2015 at 12:00 pm

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo IshiguroKazuo Ishiguro (1954 – ) was born in Nagasaki and came to England in 1960. His first three books form a loose trilogy themed around trauma caused by World War Two. The first book A Pale View of Hills (1982) is narrated by Etsuko, a widow who has moved from Nagasaki to England. As her second daughter Niki stays to visit, Etsuko is reminded of a friendship she formed whilst pregnant with her first daughter Keiko in Japan. As the reader is calmly informed from the outset, Keiko committed suicide by hanging herself.

As Etsuko attempts to deal with such morbid topics as suicide and the dropping of nuclear bombs, her narrative is patchy and full of doubt. Left out are the precise details of what happened to Keiko, why it happened and how it might be connected with Etsuko’s memories. It is as though Etsuko is too traumatized to confront the past directly, instead choosing to tell her story with a passive sort of sadness. Because Etsuko leaves so much unsaid, it is up to the reader to fill in the gaps, to almost take on the role of psychologist and analyse the text for what truly lies beneath its surface.

I like Ishiguro, and having read more about him, appreciate his clever way of telling a story using memory. There is something uncomfortable about not being given the complete story, but I am assured that this is a highly advanced narrative technique (not just lazy writing) and must be given due praise. In fact, nothing could feel more heavily worked and reworked than this story, as if the whole creative process was about distilling the tale into essential its elements, leaving me to figure out the rest. Potentially, this makes it a good book for a reading group because it is open to interpretation.

Recommended reading.

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