Jump to content

Recommended Posts

When We Were Orphans - Kazuo Ishiguro - 2000

 

Rescued Thread:

 

Leese 28th April 2006 09:52 AM

When We Were Orphans

 

I did search for another thread on this book, but didn't turn anything up. Apologies if i'm repeating.

 

OK, so I've just finished this book, and after eagerly anticipating it for a while, it turned out to be a huge let-down. I think I stated somewhere on another thread that KI is one of my fall-backs when I'm not getting on with anything else, so this was a major disappointment to me.

 

I finished this up on the train yesterday and made some notes on the laptop as I was going along, so here's what I liked/didn't like about it. Some if it may get very rant-ish and incoherant (I'm doing nightshifts, 'nuff said), so apologies in advance.

The book, although split into (i think) 4 parts, seems to be a bit of a mish-mash of different techniques; very well written indeed in the first couple of parts, (I very much enjoyed the childhood in Shanghai stuff, and the friendship with Akira was beautifully told. The latter parts though descended into some of the most ludicrous plot-lines and cheese-filled co-incidences I've read in a lonnnnnng time. Reading this book was kind of like observing the end of a bad relationship where every argument you have gets progressively more and more ridiculous until eventually you end up laughing at it as you walk away.

 

For example.

 

The first thing I noticed was that whenever Banks encountered Sarah, she always seemed to be staring out of a window. Obviously she had a lot of time on her hands, but I think I counted at least 3 incidences and I began to wish that he could think of a more original way for two people to meet. When Christopher meets Sir Cecil at the end, there he is, staring out of a window. (probably on a landing, although I don't remember now). Arrrgggh.

 

The first thing that jarred me into "oh, c'mon!" territory was Banks' snap decision to go to Macao with Sarah, which seemed totally out of character, even the dialogue sounded wrong.

 

Next came the *huge* number of totally implausible coincidences. Here's just a few that I noted down.

 

Is Shanghai really such a small place that really, everyone one meets seems to know each other and everything that's ever gone on there? I understand the need for a little artistic license, but, jeez.

Sarah's driver, a guy that Christopher has only just met, just *happening* to know the whereabouts of the blind man's house.

Morgan, Christopher's old schoolfriend from England, just *happening* to know what became of the old detective that investigated the parents' disappearance some 20yrs previously.

And my personal favourite - the injured Japanese soldier in the warren turning out to be Akira. Wow. What are the odds?! This was the straw/camel's back for me, and at this point, had the train windows not been sealed, the book would have found itself winging across the Scottish landscape, tied to a very heavy brick, hoping to find the bottom of the nearest very, very deep Loch.

 

Just previous to this, by the time Banks gets dumped in the war-zone and finds the abandoned police station, I was thinking this is just getting SO damn silly, I was almost wishing his parents dead just so I could get the experience over with.

 

(Note - normally I wouldn't have bothered to finish something like this, but being KI, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt; I was already *way* past my 100 page bechmark, plus I was on a train with not much else better to do).

 

The whole thing, to me, seemed so implausable that had Sarah still been waiting for him back at the gramophone shop days/weeks later, rooted to the spot, (maybe even as a skeleton!) covered in dust and cobwebs, I wouldn't have been at all surprised.

 

I suppose given the cheesy-coincidence factor of the whole of the second half of the book, I should have been expecting Uncle Philip to pop up at the end (although the explanation for why he abandoned Christopher in the city was pretty well done). I'll give him some credit though - at least he wasn't staring out of a window while he said it.

 

That said - I did think the last scene in the hospital was pretty touching - a kind of last minute saving grace, but by this time I was way too irritated to give it any credit.

So, generally, a big thumbs down, which really surprised me. For those of you who have tried KI and been put off by this - I'd say it's *not* a good representation of how good he can be.

 

It's not often that a book annoys me enough to pick out every little thing that's off. Maybe I was just so disappointed in it, given my like of his other work, that I felt it necessary. As I also said on another thread somewhere, I don't follow awards, but I'm wondering how the hell this managed to get nominated for a Booker (or whichever). I hope to god it didn't win?!

 

----------------------------------------

 

donnae 28th April 2006 10:43 AM

 

:thinking:Oh dear, this is my next book to read. I really enjoyed Never Let Me Go, and have heard good things about this one until now.

 

I hope I enjoy it more than you did Leese. I didn't read your spoiler, so I will keep an open mind about it.

 

----------------------------------------

 

Leese 28th April 2006 01:34 PM

 

Hi Donnae,

 

Maybe I missed the point, but it just came across as ridiculous to me. I can be hugely pedantic about this sort of stuff - it may be "me". I also have a really big problem with too much suspension of disbelief, which is probably why I never read sci-fi or watch most movies and/or Sky One shows :D

 

I do think everyone takes away something different from a book, though.

 

I haven't read Never Let Me Go yet, it's on my list to borrow soon (a friend has it) - I've flicked through the first couple of chapters and been impressed.

 

I dunno - give it a whirl, you may get more out of it than I did, and it's certainly not all bad.

 

I bet Devon is nice today - I miss it on sunny days like this!

 

----------------------------------------

 

donnae 28th April 2006 04:07 PM

 

Hi Leese,

I would highly recommend Never let me go. I have found that thoughts keep popping up in my head about it, on the basis of this, I am still keen to give W.W.W.O a try.

 

Weather has been Ok today, a little bit overcast. Yesterday was glorious....the sort of day that I realise why we moved here :D .

Link to post
Share on other sites

Rescued Thread, Part 2:

 

Leese 2nd May 2006 10:26 AM

 

***

Quote:

Originally Posted by donnae

I would highly recommend Never let me go.

***

 

Just ordered from Amz in my latest batch. I'll let you know my thoughts when I get around to reading it - which probably won't be right away. I'll save it for a fall-back :)

 

A friend has also highly recommended it, so I'm keen to give it a go.

 

----------------------------------------

 

donnae 2nd May 2006 10:54 AM

 

Hi Leese,

hope you enjoy it :) .

 

About 60 pages into W.W.W.O....mmm not sure about this one. Will persevere as it is probably a bit early to give up. This is obviously going to be a slow, gradual revealing of what really happened.

 

(And it's raining!)

 

----------------------------------------

 

Leese 2nd May 2006 11:13 AM

 

I hope so too!

 

Funny, I had the exact opposite experience with WWWO - at around 60 pages in I was loving it...

 

----------------------------------------

 

Momo 2nd May 2006 02:39 PM

 

As I've said elsewhere (I think in the Currently Reading thread), I have read this book with my book club and didn't like it at all. If it hadn't been a book club read, I wouldn't have finished and I vowed never to read an Ishiguro again. After Leese didn't like it, I thought, maybe I should try another one since she loves his other books.

Which one do you suggest I should try?

 

----------------------------------------

 

Leese 2nd May 2006 02:58 PM

 

Well, I guess "Remains of the Day" is the most well known. Not to say that the most well known is automatically the best, but it *is* very good (well, I thought so anyway).

 

----------------------------------------

 

michelangelo 2nd May 2006 04:12 PM

 

***

Quote:

Originally Posted by Leese

Well, I guess "Remains of the Day" is the most well known. Not to say that the most well known is automatically the best, but it *is* very good (well, I thought so anyway).

***

 

I've just finished reading "Never Le Me Go" and i have to say that after about 100+ pages of trying to work out myself what was going on, i finally relaxed into it and just let it roll.

 

What i found was a wonderfully evocative story of lost youth and innocence that made me really feel for the characters. Whilst the book is nowhere near as good in my opinion, as the wonderful remains of the day, i did feel that it was a well crafted story that really made you want to know how the characters turned out.

 

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who has read or is looking to read Ishiguro in the future!

 

Lee

Link to post
Share on other sites

Rescued Thread - Part 3:

 

donnae 2nd May 2006 10:18 PM

 

***

Quote:

Originally Posted by michelangelo

I've just finished reading "Never Le Me Go" and i have to say that after about 100+ pages of trying to work out myself what was going on, i finally relaxed into it and just let it roll.

 

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who has read or is looking to read Ishiguro in the future!

 

Lee

***

 

Momo, although this is the only other Ishiguro book I have read, I would definitely second this suggestion :)

 

The Accidental has temporarily removed me from W.W.W.O.

 

----------------------------------------

 

donnae 17th May 2006 11:38 PM

 

Well...I finished When We Were Orphans this evening. What a very strange story.

 

I have finally read your spoiler Leese (I have been soooo tempted to read it before I finished, but I was good :)), and totally understand what you say.

 

I actually feel like I have probably missed some underlying message in this book. Like you, although I struggled first of all, I did enjoy the earlier part of the book. When Banks returned to Shanghai, it all seemed to fall apart.

 

I think Banks was having some sort of breakdown, or a dream or something??? :thinking:

I am sure the Japanese soldier he met in Shanghai wasn't really Akira, but was perhaps that he had such a strong longing to meet him again, he imagined the soldier was him (he hints as much when being driven to the British Consulate).

 

It felt like K.I was trying to hint at some of the horrors that happened between Japan and China, but in a very proper English way. A sort of pretend it didn't happen but it did really.

 

One of the things that puzzled me was why he hadn't returned earlier to try and find his parents. The idea of the celebration being held when he found them was ludicrous.

 

When the Yellow Snake turned out to be Uncle Philip, I almost laughed. You could tell he was going to the villain!

 

I am glad that he found his mother at the end. A kind of happy ending for a very odd book.

Both books I have read by K.I, although very different, have a very claustrophobic feel to them - the main protagonist is trapped in their lifestyle/destiny and cannot escape. I will have to try Remains of the Day and see what I can make of that.

 

----------------------------------------

 

Leese 18th May 2006 01:03 PM

 

***

Quote:

I actually feel like I have probably missed some underlying message in this book.

***

 

Y'know, I thought this too, so I went and had a look at the Amazon reviews (something I never do until after I've finished reading) and hey ho, pretty much everyone else must have missed something too...

 

***

Quote:

When Banks returned to Shanghai, it all seemed to fall apart.

***

 

This was my feeling too.

***

Quote:

I am sure the Japanese soldier he met in Shanghai wasn't really Akira, but was perhaps that he had such a strong longing to meet him again, he imagined the soldier was him (he hints as much when being driven to the British Consulate).

***

 

That's one take on it, I guess - I didn't really consider that possiblity, but by that point in the book I think I was so burned out on the silly coincidences that I took it as black and white. Hmm. I'll think on that a bit more.

 

***

Quote:

The idea of the celebration being held when he found them was ludicrous.

***

 

Wasn't it! And not very "English", I thought.

 

***

Quote:

When the Yellow Snake turned out to be Uncle Philip, I almost laughed.

***

 

I did. Out loud.

 

***

Quote:

I am glad that he found his mother at the end. A kind of happy ending for a very odd book.

***

 

I think I mentioned earlier on that I liked this part too but it was really too little, too late to redeem it for me.

***

Quote:

Both books I have read by K.I, although very different, have a very claustrophobic feel to them - the main protagonist is trapped in their lifestyle/destiny and cannot escape.

***

 

Yup. That's pretty much the case with Remains too, which I think I can say without giving anything away for you.

 

Well, glad to know it wasn't just "me", anyway.

 

----------------------------------------

 

Momo 18th May 2006 04:10 PM

 

I don't really agree with your perception of the ending.

***

Quote:

Originally Posted by donnae

I am glad that he found his mother at the end. A kind of happy ending for a very odd book.

***

 

I thought it was too rose-coloured, unreal. I couldn't believe he really would have found her if this had been a real life story.[/spoiler'Leese 18th May 2006 09:53 PM

 

***

Quote:

Originally Posted by Momo

I don't really agree with your perception of the ending.

***

I thought it was too rose-coloured, unreal. I couldn't believe he really would have found her if this had been a real life story.

You think? I thought it was quite fitting.

Yes, he found her - but not really in a rosy way - didn't she not recall who he was? Although she talked about her boy being a terrible worry to her... I don't know. I could kind of taste his disappointment, but it was almost like he was at peace with it, maybe he was expecting it. Now if he'd found her and had some kind of joyous re-union, *that* would have been over-rosy. Given the last few chapters of the book, I was surprised that he didn't try and pull that off. I thought the bittersweet-ness worked well, though.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 weeks later...

I so agree with you Momo! I just thought this was utterly ridiculous especially the second half which was so ludicrous that I was expecting it all to be a result of his dreaming or something. The questions I had were:

 

 

1) Why did he believe that 30 years after their disappearance his parents would be found alive? And in the same house to which they were first taken.

2) Why did everybody else agree to the point of even planning their welcome home reception?

3) Why did he get treated, and expect to be treated, as some sort of God in Shanghai? And why was everyone so interested about his parents to such an extent that he was the centre of every function?

4) Why when he learned the location of the house did he first not feel interested enough to pursue it yet a day later have to rush off, without even having the time to tell Sarah where he was going and why?

5) Why did he feel that a seriously injured Japanese soldier could help him free his parents if and when he found them?

6) Why did he behave so arrogantly towards people? (ok that's not a plot problem but it didn't make me warm to him)

7) Why did he need to rush off from England after he'd waited so long so that he had to just visit Jenny at her school to tell her his plans? - In fact -what was the point in Jenny being in the book?

8) What was going on with his childhood house? Why was he able to reclaim it if it belonged to the Li's?

9) Why when Christopher's mother was going to be kidnapped did Uncle Philip have to abandon him in town - why could he not just take him out for a while then return him afterwards?

10) And why has this book got such rave reviews?

 

 

I was beginning to think that I had missed something - that it was actually a very clever book that I was too dim to "get".

 

And forgive me if any of my questions are explained at the end - I skim read the last section to the point of not really reading it at all!

Link to post
Share on other sites

This doesn't matter, Beerqueen, I didn't like the book either. The problem with our threads are that we had a major crash and lost a lot of our original postings. So everyone was frantically trying to find them back and post them again. After a couple of days you will get the hang of it.

 

In the meantime, you might want to introduce yourself in our thread here , so we can all get to know you.

 

Welcome! sign0016.gif

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 5 months later...

I am just about to start this. I didn't like the only other book that I've read by this author - Never Let Me Go - so it'll be interesting to see if this changes my mind about him.

 

ETA: I have now finished this book and I have to say that I did not enjoy it at all. I did get all the way through it but that surprised me, I did feel like abandoning at on a few occasions. I found it difficult to keep up with as it was just so unbelievable. The fact that Banks thought his parents were alive still and in the same house for all those years was, whilst supposedly the main part of the plot, so inconceivable that it just annoyed me.

 

I found it hard to understand because it was so unbelievable!

 

The only other book by KI that I have read is Never Let Me Go and I disliked this also - I have to say that it will take a lot of convincing for me to pick up another book by this author.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 weeks later...

I'd been really looking forward to this book, and held off reading it for a while because I anticipated it to be good! I really enjoyed Never Let Me Go, and this one did have a lot to live up to. But I can't shake the feeling it was a let down.

The plot/themes are quite confused. At one point I thought Banks was perhaps a fantasist (the very simplified solution of where to find his parents), I wasn't sure of whether or not to trust him, I'm not really sure what the role of sarah brought in the end- aside from almost taking him off the case, before he goes to find the house, what did she bring to the story?

As a character Banks is very arrogant, and stuffy. I wasn't sure where that was going. He was completely wrong about the fates of his parents, couldn't have been further from the truth, but we don't really get any reaction, we don't see him grow as a character in light of the revelations.

I agree with Radders- the implausible idea of his parents being alive, held hostage in the same house, really bugged me. I just didn't know what to do with that, and what it said about Bank's character.

I suppose the main problem is I'm still not sure what Ishiguro was getting at with this book. Was he writing Banks straight? Or are we supposed to have worked out that Banks isn't the success he says he is? Is the whole thing a parody?

I wont write off Ishiguro though, Never Let Me Go was so good that he certainly get's another few chances to match it from me at least!

Link to post
Share on other sites
Was he writing Banks straight? Or are we supposed to have worked out that Banks isn't the success he says he is? Is the whole thing a parody?
I would go with the latter. Ishiguro's narrators are wonderfully unreliable: their memories twisted, their bias coming to the fore. When We Were Orphans comes in the middle of three novels about bewildred characters. Ryder in The Unconsoled, Banks in When We Were Orphans, and Kathy in Never Let Me Go. I don't think you can ever accept what they say as gospel abd really have to read between the lines. Is Banks really a famous detective? Or is he just a big fantasist who thinks he's a famous detective because he has a magnifying glass, like Sherlock Holmes.
Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't read The Unconsoled, but as far as comparing it to Never Let Me Go goes I'd say the difference is that Kathy is a far more likable character. We feel sympathetic of the situation she is in, not because she feels sorry for herself but because she's so accepting of it.

Whereas Banks seems to revel in his parents disappearance. Perhaps he's so damaged by losing his parents that he doesn't know how to miss them properly? But the fundamental fact is that he is unlikeable, (he seems to get more and more arrogant as the book develops) and that makes it hard to to get past him being an unreliable narrator. I don't think the story is as captivating either. With Never Let Me Go it's a completely different world, there's so many questions to be answered, and we get drip fed information as if we know what it is like already. With When We Were Orphans the only question is what has happened to his parents, and that's an answer we get all at once towards the end of the book.

When I was reading it I kept on having to remind myself that Ishiguro is great, and I kept on waiting for it to get good. But it just... didn't.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...
I would go with the latter. Ishiguro's narrators are wonderfully unreliable: their memories twisted, their bias coming to the fore.

That's a very interesting point. When I read this book back in 2005 I wasn't sure whether I liked this book or not. I was certainly involved and wanted to know the outcome, but I don't think I cared about the main character. The narrative approach was very unusual, this book is written in the first person but it was almost as if the narrator was describing the actions of someone else and not himself, he was so detached. It was unusal and my least enjoyed KI book.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

While I wasn't exactly thrilled with this novel, I certainly didn't hate it like some of the above posters: I merely thought it was okay. I think a lot of the problems can be cleared up by saying that Christopher Banks is an unreliable narrator and doesn't have an accurate view of either life or of himself. We all know people who are self-delusional like this, perhaps we are even this way ourselves (not that we'd ever admit it). In light of this style that Ishiguro chose, I encourage the above readers to reexamine their opinions of this novel to see if they still feel the same way.

 

My main complaint is that it was all done in an overly heavy-handed manner. While The Remains of the Day, that most perfect of novels, was beautifully subtle, this one kept on hammering the self-delusion with a sledge hammer (that's also how I felt about The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips, a novel I think fans of When We Were Orphans would also enjoy).

 

I liked the childhood experiences in Shanghai. For the above poster who wanted to know how everyone knew each other: expatriates tend to be a close knit group and stick to the familiar parts of any city. I also enjoyed the ending, which I felt was quite poignant and fitting. I could've done without the reminiscing style which, while done very well in The Remains of the Day, seemed more of a distraction in this one.

 

Basically, don't read this as your first Ishiguro novel: read either Never Let Me Go or The Remains of the Day first. But, be warned: if you read The Remains of the Day first, every other Ishiguro novel--nay, every other novel in English--may pale in comparison.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 6 months later...
When We Were Orphans comes in the middle of three novels about bewildred characters. Ryder in The Unconsoled, Banks in When We Were Orphans, and Kathy in Never Let Me Go.
I seem to be reading this group of books in reverse order.:rolleyes:

 

It may be a bit soon to post about WWWO, as I only finished it this morning, and probably ought to let it simmer for a bit - but then I might start forgetting chunks (as is my wont these days).

 

For much of the time I felt as though the book was a parody of a style of book popular in the 1930s, about international espionage, or crime-rings, and the intrepid upper-class detective or British agent who brings them to book. Unlike them, however,

there is no satisfactory unmasking of the villain by Our Hero, which leads me to agree with those who think that Christopher is deluding himself. Indeed, I think that the disappearance of his parents left him stuck as the ten(?) year old boy who believed his own fantasies of becoming a famous detective and being the one to find his parents.

.

 

Maybe the early part of the book is more believable is because that is the part that is 'real', the rest is a version told by someone who has been severely traumatised by the disappearance of his parents, and whose life's purpose has been to rescue them - which is why the possibility of their death is never countenanced (a supposition that confounded me for much of the time).

 

 

I'm sure that the wounded Japanese soldier was not Akiro, but have yet to discover the purpose of Sarah, or Jennifer to the story, except that they have a place in the conventional plot of the inter-war thriller

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 months later...

It may be a bit soon to post about WWWO, as I only finished it this morning, and probably ought to let it simmer for a bit - but then I might start forgetting chunks (as is my wont these days).

I have just been very surprised to find the above post from 3 months ago, as I had no recollection at all of reading this book. :yikes:

I was even struggling to recall it after reading what I had written, until I uncovered the 'spoilered' bits.

Am somewhat dismayed at this memory lapse. :(

Link to post
Share on other sites

i've read almost all of Ishiguro's books (A Pale View of Hills is still on my list of books to read) and I admit that WWWO wéas not the one that has stuck with me the most in terms of a story. I read it after The Unconsoled so was mostly struck by the character looking for something desparately and not being able to find it. Kind of like you were in a dream looking for something but your eyes won't open and you can't see clearly.

 

some ongoing theme though about lost parents, in WWWO, the Unconsoled and Never Let me Go.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...
I have just been very surprised to find the above post from 3 months ago, as I had no recollection at all of reading this book. :yikes:

I was even struggling to recall it after reading what I had written, until I uncovered the 'spoilered' bits.

Am somewhat dismayed at this memory lapse. :(

Don't worry, the only reason I remember reading this book is because we discussed it in our book club and it was one of the very few books chosen by the club I really didn't like.
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 6 years later...

Have taken this book off the study shelf this morning and intend reading it next. I have read a few books by the same author and start this book with great expectations. I have no real idea what the book is about and as all the other books I have read by the same author hav been very different from each other I have not even tried to guess. I have not read any of the previous comments as I do not wish to cloud my view of the book in any way as I read it but will look forward to reading them when I have finished.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I am about two thirds of the way through this book and am now finding it difficult to put down. The book moves between both London and Shanghai in the years between the wars and concerns the mystery of the disappearance of the parents of Christopher Banks in Shanghai when he was a small boy. The book has a real haunting feel to it. Although very different to Remains Of The Day by the same author there is a similar easy flow to the language and almost subdued atmosphere to both books.

 

Christpher Banks is now a grown man and a celebrated detective based in London but has returned to an unsettled Shanghai in the late thirties to finally solve the case of his missing parents. I have no idea where the book will end but suspect tragedy. That may just be the overall feel of the book however as a great deal of it is written from the future looking back which always does seem to add an air of pathos to a story. The descriptions of Shanghai are really quite sinister and suggest constant secrets.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh my goodness, where to start?! I read the final section of this book yesterday and during the early hours of this morning becoming more and more mystified as I read! The early part of the novel describing the life of Banks as a child living in Shanghai was a real delight to read. His memories of his friendship with the child Akira had a real wistful feel to them. The circumstances under which he left Shanghai I found really sinister but believable and oh so sad.

 

However, and this is a big however, what on earth was his return to Shanghai about? As with other readers I found myself becoming more and more wound up as this part of the book wore on. This section of the book became so far fetched that like other readers I considered giving up and it was only the fact that I was so near the end of the novel that I plodded on. The actual explanation regarding the disappearance of Banks' parents I found to be quite surprising and again although a bit far fetched almost believable. It was the section leading up to the discovery of the truth that left me cold.

 

Like other readers I have no idea what contribution Jenny and Sarah really made to the overall story. The only explanation that I can arrive at is that they served to make Banks appear even more disfunctional. Other readers have suggested that Banks is delusional and while reading the last section of the book this had crossed my mind. I kept expecting him to wake from a dream, a bit like Pam coming out of the shower in Dallas as those years ago. This part of the book seemed to defy belief to such an extent that anything seemed possible at this stage!

 

I come away from this book with very mised feelings. The first half of the book I loved but the second half I all but lost my temper with. The end of the book tried to return to the earlier haunting feeling but by then the atmosphere of the book had been destroyed to such an extent that for me it only really half worked.

 

Having now read four novels by Ishiguro I am not quite sure how I feel about him as an author. I cannot make up my mind whether or not he is a great writer or whether he just wrote the one truly brilliant book. I did love Never Let Me Go I must admit but for me Remains of the Day was a bit of a book apart. I cannot help feeling that a lot of his characters are very similar. They are all a bit detached and a bit disfunfctional all be it for different reasons. I have read at least three of his novels feeling as if I were missing something of vital importance but am now beginning to wonder if I am not missing some vital point and that the books are just as they are.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

OK, CP encouraged me to read this almost immediately after she had finished it as she wanted to see what I thought of it, seeing as how she had formed some very definite opinions on it, above, which I have not looked at yet.

 

Well, I finished it last night and I really don't know what to make of this at all.  I think my first reaction on putting it down at the end was "Ridiculous", followed by "total codswallop".  I read the back of the book again, where all the plaudits by various other authors and literary critics were quoted, and I thought "Was I reading a different book" because if they were to be believed I had just read one of the greatest books by one of the greatest authors of the last 30 years or so.  Therefore, I find myself wondering whether I have missed something vital or profound, or whether this book really is a steaming pile.....

 

First off, the central character Christopher Banks, whom we are led to believe is some kind of celebrity sleuth, courted by society, yet we learn or experience nothing of how he became so, only the odd reference to 'cases'.  While reading of his boyhood years in Shanghai I could believe in this book, it was at the point where he returns to Shanghai many years later that the story seems to fly off to La-La Land, or at times, when Sarah Hemmings re-appears, into a Mills and Boon tale.  Throughout I was of the opinion that Banks had never grown up, a boy and his detective fantasies contained within an adult body.  His total fixation with "THE CASE" which had brought him back to Shanghai, to find his missing parents, seemed almost child-like in that he fully expected them to be exactly where he thought they would be after 18 years.  Additionally, he seemed to believe that his solving "THE CASE" was central to him essentially saving the world from annihilation.  I began to wonder if the whole thing was a dream or delusion; maybe that's what I missed!!

 

For the life of me I could not see the point of the adopted daughter Jennifer.  I don't know whether a single man would have been able to adopt a young girl in the 1930s, almost certainly wouldn't now, or whether Banks' celebrity status opened doors that would normally have been closed.  However, he appears to shunt her aside pretty quickly as he goes to solve "THE CASE", although he does spare the odd thought of her occasionally before plunging back into "THE CASE".  Right at the end of the book, in 1957 I think it is, he is admiring a country view with Jennifer, now in her thirties, when we are led to believe that she apparently attempted suicide at some previous time, but this detail comes out of nowhere, with no obvious reason, and just as quickly disappears into the ether.  WHY? What was the point of this?

 

If I am missing something in this book, then I would welcome enlightenment from other BGOers, for now I am going to look back through the thread and see whether I am in or out of step with other views.  Having only read Remains Of The Day by this author, which I loved, I wonder which is the more representative of Ishiguro.  I remain to be convinced that he is the genius the plaudits suggest he is.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Similar Content

    • By lunababymoonchild
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-41513246
    • By Binker
      This is my first Kazuo Ishiguro and I am mighty impressed.  The actual storyline of the book is good, but the subtle meanings are even better.
       
      On the surface, this is the story of Axl and Beatrice, elderly Britons, trying to visit their grown son.  But they, like everyone else in this land, have lost their memories and only have the vaguest recollection of their son and even their personal stories, including their shared history.  So off they go on this very unclear quest and on their way, they meet up with a young boy (a Saxon), a soldier (also a Saxon), and Sir Gawain himself (a Briton).  In the end, they do not find their son, but their memories are beginning to return and then Beatrice goes on a journey by herself to the island where the son lives.  It turns out,
       
       
      So, this book gracefully examines issues like how to deal with populations that live together, but have hated each other for generations; what is justified by war; the cleansing of the reputation of national heroes (a type of memory manipulation); the importance of memory to the human experience; and the deliverance of death.   By the time I got to the end of the book, I couldn't believe how many thorny issues had been explored by this little fable and never once did I think I had been lectured to.  In fact, what was interesting was how I couldn't decide the best answer to each issue.  Is it preferable to lose your memory and live peacefully or retain your memory only to embrace hatred?  Is the sacrifice of a innocents ever justified in order to end a war and does your answer change if the innocents belong to the group that "started it" (made me think about the discussion of the atom bombs used in WWII, but really, it's true of all wars).  Should we abandon the whole concept of national heroes, even when very flawed people have done very heroic things?  And is death a journey to be embraced or fought?  
       
      The more I've thought about this book, the more I've liked and admired it.  Has anyone else read it? If not, please do and respond as quickly as possible.
       
       
       
       
    • By nonsuch
      Ishiguro, Kazuo.  The Unconsoled.
       
      I found this very fluent account of the narrator’s struggle to become orientated in a nameless town in possibly Germany to be compulsive reading.  It is partly about memory loss and it recalled to me Karinthy’s Metropole,where a professor of linguistics ends up in a bustling modern city in central Europe in which nobody speaks any of the languages he knows.  In The Unconsoled Mr Ryder, Ishiguro’s narrator-hero, is met with extreme politeness by hotel staff, but frustratingly he fails to get exact clarification of his mission.  He is scheduled to address an audience in a small town where Mr Brodsky, a reformed alcoholic pianist has returned to perform some classical studies.  Everyone in the town knows of Mr Ryder’s reputation and initially at least he receives nothing but generous plaudits wherever he goes. The reader, however, begins to doubt his sanity, since he fails to arrive for vital consultations and is easily persuaded to take on tasks for others - such as hearing Stephan, his host’s son, practice.  What is almost a sub-plot involves Ryder in trying to make sense of the broken relationship between Leo Brodsky and Miss Collins.  Complications multiply when we learn that Ryder’s parents are arriving to hear their son’s performance - pianistic or simply as Brodsky’s front man.  Ultimately there is some doubt as to whether the Ryders senior have arrived or indeed whether they even exist within the book’s time frame.
       
      The Unconsoled is a challenging book that deliberately frustrates its reader’s expectations.  Dozens of unanswered questions are raised, many remaining unsolved at the end.  Readers who like a tight plot and a tidy conclusion are unlikely to finish the book.  For those who stay with it the book has many treasures and a great deal of humour - seemingly not aroused in Ryder, who incidentally has not only no parents, no wife, no son, and no first name.  In place of a wife and family he becomes attached like a father to Boris, a charmingly unco-operative boy and to Sophie, the boy’s mother, a caring but frustrated picker-up of pieces dropped by her two male dependants, Ryder and Boris.
       
      At times the book has the feel of a Lewis Carrol wonderland.  Conversations mainly narrated via Ryder lead to further hints of past events; the interior becomes exterior; the unlikely is accepted as fact - when Ryder meets his old car and goes back in time to childhood for example. Some readers insist that the novel is surreal and many sequences do indeed have the floating quality of dream.  We feel, Ryder feels, that we’ve been here before and there are deja vues galore.  Those who seek a tidy plot should be warned that in The Unconsoled there are time breaks and time bends in this gallimaufry plunge into consciousness. 
    • By Bill
      Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were pupils at Hailsham - an idyllic establishment situated deep in the English countryside. The children there were tenderly sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe they were special, and that their personal welfare was crucial. But for what reason were they really there? It is only years later that Kathy, now aged 31, finally allows herself to yield to the pull of memory. What unfolds is the haunting story of how Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, slowly come to face the truth about their seemingly happy childhoods - and about their futures. Never Let Me Go is a uniquely moving novel, charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of our lives.
       
      RRP: £16.99, <a href ="http://www.thebookplace.com/bookplace/spring2005.asp?CID=BGO733" TARGET="_blank">The Book Pl@ce</a> Price: £15.71
      Just click on book jacket
      <A HREF="http://www.thebookplace.com/bookplace/display.asp?ISB=0571224113&CID=BGO733" TARGET="_blank">
      <IMG SRC="http://213.253.134.29/jackets/m/057/0571224113.jpg"></A>
    • By leyla
      Again, my review is too long - I know I'm longwinded. So here it is in two parts:
       
      Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest book is a collection of five stories centred around the theme of music. The full title of the book is ‘Nocturnes - Five Stories of Music and Nightfall’.
       
      That Ishiguro should choose music as a subject around which to base his stories is not surprising: as a young man, music was Ishiguro’s first career choice. He played the guitar and piano and wrote songs, and he submitted demo tapes unsuccessfully to producers who - he self deprecatingly reflects - would grimace after less than a minute and send him on his way.
       
      It was only after the success of his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, that Ishiguro gave up his musical ambitions to concentrate on writing. Since then, he’s established himself as one of the most respected British writers of his era. He won The Booker prize for The Remains of the Day which was made into a film. His six novels have certain themes in common - regret, nostalgia, wistfulness about actions not taken. He is also a master of the unreliable narrator. He usually relates his tales in the first person, in highly accessible, chatty but nevertheless elegant language. The simplicity of his prose belies the various narrators’ veracity - they are often deluded, as was Christopher in When We Were Orphans, or suppressing their real emotions, like Kathy in Never Let Me Go, whose facade of calm hid terrible depths of anguish.
       
      Nocturnes is a departure for Ishiguro - the form of the novel gives him the space to allow the reader to see under the narrator’s story and spot the threadbare areas, the parts where the story as related doesn’t quite fit. In the short story, Ishiguro has less space and time to develop the narrator. The unembellished, at times starkly plain prose therefore has to be taken on surface value. There are still times in this collection where Ishiguro does manage to convey that the narrator is not what he seems - for example, the egotistical, lazy sponger in Malvern Hills who presents himself as an undiscovered genius. There are hints of it elsewhere - for example, in Crooner, one wonders whether the narrator, Janeck, is paranoid in his conviction that Vittorio the gondolier badmouths him behind his back, and in Malvern Hills, the resentful narrator broods that an old school teacher asked him ‘in lessons exactly the question she sensed I wouldn’t be able to answer’, raising suggestions that he’s blaming her for his own shortcomings. But elsewhere, the enforced brevity of the short story form is an obstacle to Ishiguro working his trademark magic.
       
      Ishiguro’s writing is always a delight to read. His lack of unnecessary adornment means that his prose slips down like nectar. His narrat0rs are always intriguing and compelling, their stories related in informal language peppered with figures of speech like ‘As I say’, ‘Anyway’, ‘I guess’, ‘But here I am’ to make them echo the sprinkling of chatty phrases found in conversation. Because of this, the monologues capture the reader’s attention immediately; there is no sense of being talked at or lectured to. This immediate intimacy is so ubiquitous, however, that the narrators of the five stories sound similar to each other except when the reader is given insights into their personality, as with the would-be musician in Malvern Hills.
       
      The five stories all feature small-time musicians or lovers of music. The music is never the central topic, though - it acts as a backdrop to standard Ishiguro themes of unfulfilled promise or lost opportunities, damaged relationships and melancholic memories. In Crooner, a guitar player from a previously Communist country who now plays in the piazzas of Venice meets an old American musical idol of his mother’s, Tony Gardner. Gardner asks him for a favour. It is only later that we learn what is really going on. In Come Rain or Shine, a successful Londoner invites an old university pal of he and his wife’s to come and stay. The friend, Raymond, who scrapes a living teaching English in Spain, is delighted at this opportunity to visit, holding special memories as he does for the musical tastes he shares with the wife. But the true reason he has been asked quickly becomes apparent. In Malvern Hills, the inconsiderate amateur guitarist mentioned previously comes to stay with his older sister in the cafe she runs with her husband in the Malverns. He meets a Swiss tourist couple (the male of which, Tilo, is depicted beautifully as a generous, jolly soul). The guitarist’s initial dislike of the couple changes when they admire his music, and as facts about the couple are revealed, a poignancy is evoked. Nocturne features another unsuccessful musician. He embarks on plastic surgery to try and save his career and win back his wife and meets the wife of Tony Gardner from Crooner in the hotel where she too is recuperating after cosmetic surgery. Cellists is centred around the relationship between a classically trained cellist and a mentor he meets in Italy.
       
      My main cavil with these stories - and unfortunately it’s an insurmountable problem - is their implausibility. Ishiguro has always toyed with the improbable, and sometimes the reader puts the lack of feasibility down to the unreliability of the narrator. For example, in When We Were Orphans, the narrator returns from England to Japan where his parents disappeared twenty years previously, and tells us that the the powers-that-be pull out all the stops to help him search for his parents, even though neither he nor his parents have ever been particularly significant figures. He even says that resources are diverted from acute, violent ongoing problems to his long dead cause. In Never Let Me Go, the lack of plausibility of clones being raised in order to provide organs was an obstacle for me because it’s a risible idea that this would ever get past an ethics committee, but I told myself it might occur in places with less stringent human rights than the UK.
       
      But in Nocturnes, the implausibilities become a great stumbling block because in the limited space, there is less possibility to develop other strengths of the story. Thus in Crooner, the whole premise of the tale is ludicrous because the reason Tony Gardner gives for his action is just not true (he says he will only have a chance of a come-back if X occurs - yet the reader knows well that this is not the case). The only alternative is that Gardner is being dishonest - in which case the whole pathos of the piece is ruined because he is no longer a man for whom we feel sympathy.
       
      Similarly, in Come Rain or Shine, the whole farce depends on the reader believing the actions related could occur. That they’re preposterous is not the only problem - after all, much of farce is based on the unlikely. The other stumbling block is that surely once Ray has found out what his venal ‘friends’ think of him, he wouldn’t care a jolt about the small spontaneous act of vandalism that causes him to embark on his elaborate cover-up. The wife’s ‘concern’ is obviously a total sham and so Ray shouldn’t care about what she thinks - his act is understandable given what he has found out. It may be that Ishiguro intends the reader to think that the malevolent (and dishonest) husband was the one who wrote and planted the hurtful item that Ray finds, but this wouldn’t work because the wife would quickly find out and explanations would out.
       
      Nocturne uses a similar element of farce, but again, the way it comes about is so contrived as to rob the end scene of any real humour it may hold. A man is caught on stage with his hand up a turkey - but the reason this happens is frankly too unlikely to be plausible.
×
×
  • Create New...