A Pale View of Hills

P1060967July 5th, and A Pale View of Hills is on my kindle. I had to read it all. A couple of World Cup games would be as long, so, no harm done!

After reading it, I can’t but admire the title. Ishiguro has a spell bound quality to his writing, most salient in this short novel. He’s done it again, his magic.

This was his first book? Say that again. His first book. And it’s perfection.

And as usual, after reading it, I went to Goodreads and binged on reviews. That’s rewarding. I see many other admirers which describe his writing and books with so much talent, that I felt tempted to copy and paste different parts of many reviews, and leave you with an amazing patchwork. This review was particularly interesting to me. I ditto every word. Another reviewer commented on how much is felt more than said, that’s to me one of his most wonderful talents as a writer, a strong undercurrent that sticks to you forever once you close the last page.

For 90% of the book, -or longer-, I believed I was reading a simple, straightforward, and beautifully narrated book, but that wasn’t all. I should have known better. On top of that simplicity, -or better said, underneath it-, lies a subtle and pitch perfect complexity that bombs the whole. The last pages turn all tables.

One reviewer said Ishiguro mentioned that, had he written the book later in life, he would have chosen a different end. But many reviewers also said the end was perfect. I share that sentiment. The end changes the whole experience of the book. They also say that Ishiguro, talking about this his first novel, stated that if he met his younger self, the author in his twenties, he’d admire him. I can see that, contrary maybe to what we’d presume, -that an author would get better with age-, there’s a way in which a young author may have a distinct skill, maybe his naivete gives him boldness and courage. Whatever that is, this book is flawless. It crawls under your skin, and refuses to leave.

As we were discussing his last book, The Buried Giant, both books surely place themselves in the two extremes of Ishiguro as a writer. The young end is tight, smooth, snappy, the old end is frayed, worn out, weathered, -but that’s not a criticism, I take it all!

I don’t even want to tell you much about what the book is about. (I knew nothing about it, and that’s how I prefer to read). I’d like to mention some aspects of the book that touched me. Etsuko and her father in law. They have a very warm and cordial relationship. I held the preconception that Japanese old men would be formal and stiff towards their daughters in law, specially at the time of the book, -after WWII. In his other book, The Artist in the Floating World, the father, who is the same age that Etsuko’s father in law, fit that idea I had. But in this book, Etsuko and her father in law get along, and banter. They are critical but not cynical, they do love each other. She seems much colder towards her husband, Jiro, who, despite being a young man, is caught up with working long hours, and bent on getting a promotion. Jiro doesn’t seem that close to his own father either.

Something I don’t quite understand, it’s when some of my reader friends say how much they dislike books told in the first person, and unreliable narrators. I’m not sure I would be able to dig in my memory and come up with titles and books I love that are written in the first person, -apart from all Ishiguro. It’s something he does, and he does excellently. As for the unreliability, his use of it again, strikes me as mesmerizing, never irritating. Again, another reviewer said that we are all unreliable narrators. Ishiguro’s narrators may be unreliable, but they are honest and true to their human condition. It’s not as Ishiguro playing tricks with the reader, -hiding things here, showing things there-, it’s more like characters being true to themselves, and expressing that duplicity, ambiguity, and constantly morphing quality of our memory, how we act under certain conditions, how we change when those conditions change.

His characters hide things from us, because we all hide things from ourselves. They don’t tell us how things happened, because they don’t know either. Maybe the difference between unreliable characters in other books and his resides in this: on those many books that focus on plot development, we, the readers, feel used when the author moves the plot with this ugly trick we call unreliable narrators, while Ishiguro’s books aim at more than plot. He crafts a distinctive atmosphere, and exposes angles of people who struggle to understand their past, and whose past is affecting their present. People who are unreliable at nature as a direct consequence of their dark and unreconciled secrets, their moral, -or immoral choices-, their ambiguous position in life, and their vulnerability.

Ishiguro wrote this book in 1982. Genre is listed as novel. I believe it could also qualify as mystery, but this is no Agatha Christie either, 🙂 . At this point, I’ve completed all his books but one which I won’t read, –The Unconsoled. And that’s OK with me. I just have personal and inconsequential reservations. I’m perfectly happy basking on all the other books by him, many of which I’ve read twice. I’m getting impatient for a new title.

6 thoughts on “A Pale View of Hills

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