A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

August 26, 2009 § 13 Comments


I think this book has been very aptly titled. The story is so quiet, so serene, it does really feel like when you see the pale view of hills. You can just see the outline of the hills, some parts more vague than others, and you can also just pick out the very subtle shadows cast.

The main character in this story is a Japanese woman called Etsuko. The story starts with the suicide of Etsuko’s eldest daughter, but hardly does it dwell on this. Rather, the story is mainly about Etsuko’s memories of life back when she was still in Japan (she now resides in England), during the time just after the Second World War.

Back then, she gets to know a woman named Sachiko, and her daughter Mariko. Both these characters are a little ‘out there’, a little weird and rather disturbed pair. According to Etsuko’s recollection, Sachiko hardly seems like the perfect role model for motherhood, what with leaving Mariko to her own wits and letting her wander around outside even after dark, and during such dangerous times. But there is a certain flavour to this mother-daughter pair that I find quite enchanting. Though it may not be obvious at the first, a different kind of bond between them seems to slowly appear towards the end.

These recollections of memories is, again, very much like looking at the pale view of hills faraway in the distance. You can never tell for sure if what you see is indeed what truly is, some of the view is blocked, some just vaguely visible, and more often than not, our minds tend to ‘fill in the gaps’ that our memories leave out. In the essence of it, perhaps Etsuko feels that way about her memories as well.

Reading this book was a good experience for me, but I have this feeling that I have not gotten some of what the author might have intended. Somehow, it feels like there are certain parts of the story that have been lost on me. But still, it had me fully immersed.

Conclusion: 4/5. This is a very quiet book, told in a rather quiet manner. All very subdued.


§ 13 Responses to A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

  • This sounds quite interesting. I’ve not read any Ishiguro since Never Let Me Go, back in 2006, which I absolutely loved.

    I had my eyes on The Remains Of The Day, but, might avert them slightly to point to Pale View Of The Hills.

  • Mel says:

    Thank you for this very thoughtful review. My TBR list for the Japanese Challenge
    is rapidly getting out of control.

  • Mark David says:

    Subdued, sound just like the kind of book I like… I’ve been wanting to read Ishiguro for some time now, but the one I want to read is Never Let Me Go. Thanks for the review Michelle 🙂

  • Tony says:

    I remember reading this a few years ago, but I honestly don’t remember that much about it! I definitely intend to read more Ishiguro; I loved ‘The Remains of the Day’ and ‘The Unconsoled’ (as always, too many books, not enough time!).

  • su says:

    @ anothercookie: I’ve got my sights set on Ishiguro for quite a while now, but just never got around to reading. Now that I’ve got that first book out of the way, I’m actually looking forward to reading more of his work.

    @ Mel: Don’t all of us have TBR lists that just spin out of control all of the time? 🙂

    @ Mark David: Yup, I like quiet subdued books as well. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed this book so much, and also probably the reason why I really like Murakami’s work. I’m looking forward to reading more of Ishiguro to see if his style is of the subdued kind.

    @ Tony: I’ve got “The Unconsoled” sitting on my shelf now, waiting to be picked up. It looks like a huge book though, and I might just have to find enough time to sit and read it. But as for A Pale View of Hills, it’s possible that you don’t remember much of it because it isn’t the sort of book that leaves a very strong impression. Maybe?

  • Tony says:

    I tell a lie. It wasn’t ‘The Unconsoled’; it was ‘Never Let Me Go’! A truly heart-breaking novel, but well worth reading all the same.

    The reason I can’t remember ‘A Pale View of Hills’ is because my wife got it me for my birthday a few years ago along with a couple of other books that I didn’t really want; I read it in a couple of hours and then took all three back to the shop and exchanged them for a couple of Murakami novels 😉

  • su says:

    Tony, I can’t say that I don’t agree with your decision to exchange books for Murakami. I may have done exactly what you did too!

    Everyone says ‘Never Let Me Go’ is a very good book. I guess it’s about time I hunt it down then.

  • Helen says:

    Hi! I was thinking of reading this for the Japanese Literature Challenge. I think you just convinced me. Great review!

  • su says:

    Helen, then I’ll look forward to reading what you think about the book when you’ve done reading it, and we’ll compare notes then!

  • Bellezza says:

    Isihiguro is such a beloved author by so many, you never hear anything bad about his book Remains of The Day, but I’ve yet to read this. I think the topic of suicide has kept me at bay. I’m relieved to hear it doesn’t dwell long on that subject.

  • su says:

    Bellezza: I’ve heard tons of good things about Remains of the Day, so maybe that’s why I can’t seem to locate it anywhere in the local libraries! It’s been borrowed out by too many people. But I’ll surely be looking out for more of Ishiguro.

  • Oh says:

    Su, Enjoyed your review and your comment that you may have missed something the author intended. Sometimes, that makes a book more memorable rather than less so as you try to work it all out. I may take a look at this one, thanks!

  • su says:

    @ Oh: I agree. Sometimes it does take a little bit of ambiguity to keep us drawn to the story. And I find it intriguing how when we pick up the same book to read a second time after a while, we see things we didn’t notice were there in the first place.

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