Guest blog: A Pale View of Hills

I’m very excited today because I’ve got my first guest blog post, written by my friend and colleague, Alex. This post was born out of a kitchen conversation during which she tried to persuade me that Kazuo Ishiguro is an amazing author. I’m still not completely convinced, but based on this review, will almost certainly give this book a try.

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A Pale View of Hills is English-born Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel, but the one I read last, having come to his work via his most famous novel (and one of my favourite books of all time), The Remains of the Day. For those of you not familiar with him, I would describe all his writing as ‘quietly brilliant’. If you’re looking for fast-paced action and dense plots, he’s probably not your cup of tea, but if you’re happiest reading a book and thinking 99% of the way that nothing has happened, then realising right at the end how everything comes together, you’re in for a treat.

A Pale View of Hills is no exception to the rule. I read about ¾ of the book before I had any idea about what was going on. Simply put, the story is about a Japanese woman, Etsuko, who recalls one summer in Nagasaki after the war whilst thinking about the suicide of her eldest daughter. We know that her Japanese daughter, Keiko, has committed suicide, and that she has another, half-English, daughter, Niki, who visits her in her new home in England. Ishiguro then uses her current situation as a framework through which to delve back into her past and reflect on how things came to be the way they are. Although if this makes you think you’re going to get any answers, then you’re quite wrong!

Ishiguro’s writing is slow-paced, introspective and on the surface, quite simplistic. Characters speak to one another in an incredibly restrained and rather superficial way that often seems stilted to the point of being unrealistic. But to read everything on the surface level would be to completely miss the point of what is actually one of the most intriguing books I’ve read in ages. We see the past through the clouded window of Etsuko’s memory, and her unreliable and possibly inaccurate or distorted perspective on events. What seems to be a simple memory of her friendship with a strange woman and her troubled daughter is littered with tiny clues that something darker and stranger is really happening. What seems like an almost tedious description of banal events and insignificant recollections gradually gives us a picture of something else altogether. Images of nooses, kittens being drowned and references to mysterious deaths of children and to a strange woman who no one seems to think really exists, all start to come together and make you think about whether Etsuko is unconsciously remembering something rather sinister.

Not to spoil the book for you, there are a couple of telling lines towards the end of the book that will allow you to come up with your own interpretation of the story. But you’ll be disappointed if you hope Ishiguro will make it clear for you! He’s the master of writing beautifully simple stories that hide complex mysteries between the lines. Here, he explores the way in which our current situation colours our memories of the past, and the way that people react to changes in the world around them, and painful events in the past.

Alex is a translator, professional language geek and writer of book and music reviews. If you’re into metal (music, I mean, not actual metal) you should check out her blog at littlenumber9.blogspot.co.uk.

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