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A Pale View of Hills: Kazuo Ishiguro

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In A Pale View Ogata-San, Etsuko’s father-in-law, a school teacher and headmaster (now retired), is the mouthpiece for the older generation, those who went along with the ever more virulent Japanese nationalism of the thirties and supported whole-heartedly the war effort. Niki, Etsuko’s surviving daughter visited her mom to reassure her that she should have “no regrets for choices (you) once made”. Mariko, Sachiko’s daughter, also draws Etsuko’s attention to the haunting presence of one woman “who lives across the river”, and whose existence Sachiko dismisses as fantasy. The formality of behaviour required and the denial lead to hopelessness, when the heart obviously screams the opposite and wants to believe.

It is about the decisions of a parent being reflected in the lives of children, the indelible seal that a lack of parent's love makes. People are still in something of a muddle, and rightly they should be, but there is constant activity around Nagasaki. There is a quietness to Ishiguro’s writing that makes the strange and sometimes awful things that happen in his books seem even stranger and more mundanely awful. It opens with a visit from her daughter, Niki, and a conversation about her older daughter, Niki’s half-sister Keiko.Was it Etsuko who neglected her own daughter's needs so badly that she never recovered and killed herself.

Etsuko tells us at one point “Memory…can be an unreliable thing; often it is heavily coloured by the circumstances in which one remembers” [Ishiguro, 2005: 41]. Etsuko is an unreliable narrator, that is questioning the choices she made in the past, that were deeply reflected in the life of her daughter. My only criticism is one I have made of debut novels before – the vagueness of the ending felt less deliberate and more as though Ishiguro wasn’t quite sure how to draw things together. This desolate wasteland is mentioned over and over throughout the course of the novel and provides a background of malaise for the story of Sachiko and her daughter. If I could go from one passage to the next according to the narrator’s thought associations and drifting memories, I could compose in something like the way an abstract painter might choose to place shapes and colours around a canvas.We can imply from it that the characters are full of regret, we can assume, but he does not state it anywhere: he doesn’t need to. A Pale View of Hills concerns Etsuko, a Japanese woman living in England, and the story of her past in Nagasaki.

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