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.
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.
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.
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I've greatly admired Booker prize winning (The Remains of the Day) author Kazuo Ishiguro for a long time and am surprised by how long it look me to get around to properly reading his earliest books. A Pale View of Hills is fascinating for what it reveals about an artist at an earlier stage of exploring his narrative and stylistic powers as well as for the tale it tells -- or, being an Ishiguro novel, the tale it doesn’t quite tell. A Japanese woman living in Britain, Etsuko, is the mother of a recent suicide victim. Yet as she begins her memoir, the story she tells is of her own earlier life in postwar Nagasaki. It’s an elegant and enigmatic story, and I’ll try to comment on it without giving too much away.
The big philosophical issues Ishiguro’s later novels explore -- existential angst about what are we to make of the particular life we have, for instance -- are already probed here, with what would become Ishiguro's customary delicacy. Certain instances of finely drawn dialogue are a good example of this (not all of it is perfect, but it is all forgivable in a first novel that many seasoned writers could not equal); 'So many women just get brainwashed. they think all there is to life is getting marred and having a load of kids.' says the daughter, to which the mother, a survivor of Nagasaki, replies 'In the end... there isn't very much else.'
The issue of gender is significant for the text, too. In the new post-war Japan, society struggles to work out how much of the modern world to absorb. The father-in-law's insistence on traditional values comes across, as does so much in this book, as fated and above all, as terribly sad. Speaking of gender -- how gratifying to read a book with the theme of motherhood, surely one of the most significant yet most under-explored subjects in literature (but I'll have more to say about that later, elsewhere, I'm sure) -- written by a man. And so heartbreaking. Here are intertwined the grief of an elderly woman for a daughter who has hanged herself and the reminiscences she has of a woman she knew in Nagasaki, a woman anxious to get to the West (where the narrator now lives) and who
And it is then that I felt that shiver of realisation and that all the clues in the text began to slide into place. I had already wondered
Now I realised why the story was being told. How brilliantly, in his already elliptical fashion, Ishiguro shows us.