- Meredith, Martin — The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (736 pages)
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o — Wizard of the Crow (766 pages)
- Coetzee, J.M. — Life & Times of Michael K (182 pages)
- Saint-Exupery, Antoine de — The Little Prince (101 pages)
- Brunner, John — Stand on Zanzibar (661 pages)
- Dahl, Roald — Fantastic Mr Fox (79 pages)
- Walker, Barbara — TEENY-TINY and the Witch-Woman (29 pages)
- Shakespeare, William — A Midsummer Night's Dream (23 pages)
- Powers, Richard — The Time of Our Singing (631 pages)
- McEwan, Ian — In Between the Sheets (134 pages)
- Ishiguro, Kazuo — A Pale View of Hills (182 pages)
Page count: 3524.
It is purely coincidental that I began to read a book partly about the aftermath of the Nagasaki bomb on VJ Day. I was already 40 pages in when I realized what day it was.
I discovered Kazuo Ishiguro last year when I read the fascinating The Remains of the Day. I wasn't expecting A Pale View of Hills to be my next Ishiguro. In fact, I've had The Unconsoled and Nocturnes sitting on my shelf for over a year and several months, respectively. But, clearly, I intended to read more Ishiguro. He is one of the most perceptive novelists writing today. It just so happens that the Mad Fisher recently read A Pale View of Hills, and since she made the effort to read something I had recommended, I felt I should follow up.
A Pale View of Hills is Ishiguro's first novel. Having read a more mature work first, I could detect certain subtle devices he uses. Therefore, the plot twist at the end, while it did make me stop and re-read the passage to make sure I read it right the first time, was half expected. This is not meant to be at all a detractor, though. Ishiguro has made an artform out of using the unreliable narrator, so I knew to listen more to what was not being said than to what was being said. Ishiguro was brilliant at this in A Pale View of Hills and only got better in The Remains of the Day.
A Pale View of Hills is an understated account of a Japanese expatriate, Etsuko, being visited by her youngest daughter, not long after the death of her second husband and the suicide of her eldest daughter. Much of the novel's focus is Etsuko's recollections from a summer in Nagasaki in the decade after the atomic bomb. Her story explores the themes of relationships between different generations, the emptiness and upheaval caused by the bomb's desolation, the clash between traditions and change, and the effects of guilt on the psyche. The narrative is imbued with elegance and a profound sadness. We come to know Etsuko and the other characters not by the things they tell us, which in their reluctance to offend or reticence in opening up is rarely forthcoming, but indirectly by the sorts of things they choose to say, the things they keep to themselves, what they imply, the particulars they recall (such as a detail about the weather or the lighting or a recollection about an outing in the hills), and by their actions or lack thereof. In the end, what really takes place in the novel is no doubt a question for endless debate.
My only regret is that I read this quickly. This was my commute reading this week, and I was pushing on. This book should be relished at a slower pace, though. The dialogue should not be quickfire but should be read with a Chekhovian pace to it, with lots of pauses between statements to fully digest not only what has been said but also all the subtext. The occasional well-timed descriptions of setting (such as of the light scattered through the grass, or of a solitary bird singing outside the house) or particulars about a person's posture or expression, should not be raced through, but savored for the atmosphere they create and the clues they provide. There is not a wasted word in Ishiguro's narrative; everything is meaningful. I think I processed everything, but I did it quickly. I would like to read A Pale View of Hills again sometime and really take my time, letting each nugget percolate slowly through my mind.
I eagerly await my next foray into Ishiguro's stories. Perhaps I will tackle The Unconsoled next, since it sits on my shelf beckoning me. Or maybe An Artist of the Floating World so I can establish a chronological progression and see how his craft matures. What isn't in doubt is that, barring some major catastrophe, I will continue to read Ishiguro's books.