Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Pale View Of HillsA Pale View Of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As part of our "Summertime in Japan" project in The World's Literature group, this book was on the list for Ishiguro. I had only read Never Let Me Go by this author, and while the stories don't have much in common, both are told in a non linear fashion and contain a lot to think about.

In fact, I'm still thinking about it. If you are a person who doesn't like to know the endings of books before you read them, you might want to stop here.  It is very difficult to discuss the book without talking about the end.

When you get to the end, there is a scene on a bridge where Etsuko's narrative seems to morph into Sachiko's point of view. All of the sudden, I thought, oh, are they the same person? For so much of the first half of the novel, I thought that either Sachiko or Mariko may be suffering from some form of severe mental illness. They definitely didn't interact like a typical mother-daughter relationship. Mariko doesn't go to school and frequently leaves, talking about some strange woman she has seen. Sachiko keeps making plans to leave that never work out.

Etsuko herself is telling the story from England, where she moved with her first child, and then had a second child from a second marriage. The younger daughter has come to visit her after her older sister's suicide.

So much of the book is about moving forward, about letting go of the past, an essential theme because they live in Nagasaki, not long after the end of World War II. Right before the bridge scene, Etsuko says, "Memory, I realize, can be an unreliable thing; often it is heavily coloured by the circumstances in which one remembers, and no doubt this applies to certain of the recollections I have gathered here."

In my mind, and who knows if this is what the author intended, Etsuko and Sachiko are the same. Etsuko has been retelling her history to herself to make it easier to stomach. Clearly her daughter's suicide is partly her fault, but it is clear that she doesn't think so from the way she tells the story.

I also wonder at the title. Throughout the book, the hills outside Nagasaki are described as pale, shrouded in clouds and fog. It seems as if the past could be described the same way. I don't think I'm reading too much into it! I think Ishiguro wants us to keep thinking about this story, and I have been.

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