Monday, May 23, 2011

A Pale View of the Hills

I didn't have any expectations for Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of the Hills. I picked it up at the library because it was slim and because I had enjoyed Never Let Me Go. The description on the back of the novel led me to believe it was mostly about a woman dealing with the suicide of her eldest daughter. Because I’ve been in a somewhat weird place lately, I was a bit hesitant about the book. Additionally, I’ve often had difficulty with Japanese novels – really Asian novels in general. I don’t know why, and I hate to characterize a novel as an “Asian novel” based the ethnicity of the author, but there it is. I’ve just always found them difficult. Perhaps it’s a cultural barrier that is hard for me to cross.

Turns out, the novel is not particularly about a woman dealing with the suicide of her eldest daughter. Though that is certainly a fair description of the situation, the novel focuses its efforts on that woman’s (Etsuko) memories of living in post-war (and of course post-bomb) Nagasaki while pregnant with the child that would eventually commit suicide.

The novel revolves around Etsuko and a strange woman that moves into her neighborhood, Sachiko and her troubled daughter, Mariko. There are many pieces missing in Etsuko's story, which are - oddly enough - filled in by Sachiko's story. So - is Sachiko really Etsuko disguised? It's never even explicitly hinted at in the text, but there are enough clues to make me wonder before I consulted the wiki article. The novel itself is ambiguous, so it's up to the reader to decide.

Within the first few pages - maybe even the first 40 or 50, I wasn't expecting to like APVotH. Maybe it had too many similiarities to those other "asian novels" that I didn't understand. Maybe it was because of the familial undercurrents that I didn't want to deal with. By in the end, I finished it in a long, 100-pages-in-one-day binge, which is a big deal for me. This novel definiately won me over, and I'm looking forward to more Ishiguro to come...

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