A Pale View Of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

October 27, 2017 § 2 Comments

First published in the English in 1982

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Etsuko is a Japanese woman residing in modern-day England. Her youngest daughter, Niki, is coming for a visit—one that doesn’t come by too often, it seems. They don’t seem to have the easiest of relationships, but there is something floating between them—something they seem to want to talk about and avoid at the same time. Etsuko’s eldest daughter, Keiko, had committed suicide not too long ago.

Instead of talking about this incident with Niki, Etsuko chooses to talk about a woman she once knew from a long time ago, back when she was still in Nagasaki. A woman and her daughter—Sachiko and Mariko.

Much of the book dwells on Etsuko’s past, or more precisely, that one summer in Nagasaki when she had gotten to know Sachiko and her daughter. And it is through Etsuko’s memories that we get to know them as well, which then becomes convenient for us to be influenced by Etsuko’s descriptions of the woman.

Sachiko comes off as someone immensely odd. She constantly tells Etsuko to ask whatever she wants, making it seem as though she’s willing to tell all. And yet Sachiko answers none of Etsuko’s questions directly. In fact, she often just laughs or smiles, then walks circles around the question before arriving to a conclusion that perhaps it is Etsuko who is too worrisome, too close-minded, too doubtful.

Mariko is an even odder character. She ignores her mother and Etsuko most of the time, then stays out late into the night. She refuses to answer questions, choosing to repeat herself, sometimes saying completely unrelated things. Weirder still is how she constantly talks about a woman she sees by the river—a woman that neither Sachiko nor Etsuko can see.

The overall atmosphere, aura if you will, is one of slow, misty resignation. As if the sun doesn’t shine too brightly, not even on the hottest of summers, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It almost feels like Etsuko believes that she has no say, that things simply happen to her—like meeting Sachiko, and Keiko committing suicide.

I’ve read a few of Ishiguro’s books by now (this book itself is a rereading), and I found A Pale View Of Hills very similar to An Artist Of The Floating World. Similar not only in tone and atmosphere, but also in the descriptions and characters. Beautiful and quiet, very nostalgic, a little melancholic.

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If you’ve not read the book, and plan to do so, this is where you should turn away. *Spoiler Alert*

Because I read this book as part of a read-along with Bellezza, I thought it would be good to have this extra bit to discuss a bit further about my other thoughts.

There were two things that really stood out for me, especially as I reached the end of the book. The two mother-daughter pairs (Sachiko-Mariko, and Etsuko-Keiko) felt so eerily similar that I find it hard to believe that Etsuko is perhaps Sachiko herself. Did Sachiko really exist? Or did Etsuko make her up, gently moulding her own memory to make it seem as if Sachiko was indeed a neighbour?

This became even stronger in that scene where Etsuko tried to convince Mariko to follow her mother to America, saying that “If we don’t like it there, we can come back,” as if talking to her own daughter. Perhaps it was really Etsuko talking to Keiko, and not Mariko at all.

The second thing that sort of caught me by surprise also came in this scene. As Etsuko continues to talk to Mariko, Mariko suddenly sees a rope in Etsuko’s hand and asks about it. Etsuko says that it just got caught on her ankles.

But as I was reading it, I had this nagging feeling about it, so I did a Google search. Apparently, there’s an interpretation about this—perhaps Etsuko is really the child murderer, and the rope that she had in her hand was really for her to use against Mariko.

I’m not completely convinced about this, and it could mean something else entirely. But it just really stood out as something out of the ordinary, and the fact that Ishiguro cared about that rope being caught on Etsuko’s ankles should mean that there’s something more there than meets the eye.

 

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

August 20, 2014 § 1 Comment

There’s something to be said about rereading books.

When I was a young girl, I didn’t have the privilege of visiting bookstores very often. In fact, we only ever visited book fairs and sales, and even then, we would mostly only bring home dictionaries. My dad was, and still is, a big fan of dictionaries. So as a young girl, the only new books that we had were heavy and thick – they were dictionaries.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have other books at home. My dad had friends from all sorts of backgrounds, as he was a businessman. And his friends were very generous with their books. In fact, of all the books we used to have at home, I reckon more than half were from his friends’ personal libraries – books that they no longer wanted, and books I learned to cherish.

But also because of this, that meant I had to learn how to make do with the limited variety of books I had at my disposal. It didn’t matter that I didn’t get new reading material. I simply reread the ones I had grown to love.

There were some obvious favourites. My Enid Blyton books had tape all over, holding the pages, only barely, in their places. My Roald Dahl “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” met with the same fate – in fact, the spine was so worn, only I knew what book it was from its non-existent spine. I knew exactly how each of the Five Find-Outters mysteries was going to pan out, and what each character was going to say on the next page. I could almost sing-along with the Oompa-Loompas as they laughed at the kids in the chocolate factory.

And with each reread, I grew to love the stories even more.

There’s something to be said about rereading. The book, the story, grows on you, and every time you reach out for something that’s somewhat familiar, it’s almost like reaching out for family.

I read Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” a few years back. This was when I first got acquainted with his work. I had only read one other book of his, “Dance Dance Dance” back then, so he was someone unfamiliar. Reading this book then allowed me a little bit of insight into someone who has now become one of my favourite authors.

Since I last read this book, I’ve gone on to read quite a number of his other works. And with each novel, I felt like I got to know him a little bit better. And as I was sitting in front of my bookshelf that day, thinking of what book to read next, my hand simply reached out for this one, my mind telling me that it was about time I saw him in a different light.

And I did.

I remember feeling that this book felt very conversational, that it felt like he was sitting right in front of me, speaking to me and telling me all these things about himself.

This time, while still conversational, it felt different. It was no longer about himself. I felt like he was telling me about life and life’s decisions, and how perhaps only we know what’s best for us.

This book is so different from his novels and short stories, and yet, there’s no doubt that it’s the same voice. This voice that spins bizarre stories of wells and cats gone missing and talking sheep, is the same voice that’s telling me, ever so calmly, that everything requires discipline, effort and a lot of great timing. On the one hand, we have a crazy world full of unexpected twists and turns, and on the other hand, we have this seemingly calm and peaceful world that’s equally full of unexpected twists and turns.

It’s the same crazy world. It just depends on what glasses you put on.

But that’s just me. Most people may not feel what I felt when I read this book this time around. And truth be told, I believe I’ll have a completely different take on it if I read it again five years from now.

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