A Pale View of Hills: Kazuo Ishiguro
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My still fevered condition was perhaps a factor, but I became completely riveted by the Overture and Combray sections. While Niki is visiting her in the British countryside, Etsuko stands looking out a window—more on this “looking out” theme later—and begins thinking about “a woman I knew once in Nagasaki. Ishiguro himself has said that readers shouldn't ponder too hard on the mysteries of this novel - he hadn't intended it to be such a 'conundrum' - but I find that hard to believe, given all the clues and incredibly subtle nuances. Sachiko felt that the noodle lady had lost everything worth living for when she lost her family in the war but Etsuko thought she had a content enough existence, considering. Here is Etsuko Ogata (later Sheringham), the narrator of A Pale View of Hills, with an early admonishment to the reader (beginning of Chapter Three): “It is possible that my memory of these events will have grown hazy with time, that things did not happen in quite the way they come back to me today.
The hills around me are unseeable, which makes the timing of reading Kazuo Ishiguro's slim debut novel quite poignant. A delicate, ironic, elliptical novel … Its characters are remarkably convincing … but what one remembers is its balance, halfway between elegy and irony. But young Jiro, the son of Ogata San and husband of Etsuko, is just the opposite: a self-centred person for whom office work and career define the success. On reading it this second time--my memory of the subtle story had grown hazy over the intervening years--I all but jumped from my chair.Etsuko San indeed represents a true Japanese conventional woman who is kind, considerate, helpful and duly cautious as well; so does her father-in-law, Ogata-San. Like Sachiko, Etsuko may have also craved independence and a foreign-born lover, and now also feels guilty because her relationship with her daughter Keiko was never too good. In the flashback, Etsuko’s father in law remarks, “Children become adults but they don’t change much. The dialogue between Etsuko and Sachiko is awkward and stilted and Sachiko, formally a wealthy woman, is patronising to Etsuko.
Even if the “memory” theme is more or less convincingly established in the novel, the second theme of copying with trauma by dissociation/mistaken association requires quite a big imaginary leap on the part of the readers. Mariko, an angry, almost feral child, is obviously wounded by Sachiko’s insistence on moving around, clinging to the only thing she has, her kittens. For example, Etsuko treats a piece of rope as an ordinary object being accidentally entangled with her foot, but it is still there. Just one question, though–I don’t remember anything about Etsuko leaving her husband or having an affair.The characters are interesting and tell us a lot of the Japanese world and its changes in recent times. Ishiguro here plays with his common themes of personal and collective memories, trauma and cultural differences between Japan and England. Sachiko’s/Etsuko’s total break with her Japanese past is embodied by the scene with the drowning kittens.
times: “I should keep looking forward,” “how important it is to keep looking forward,” “I’m going to look forward to it,” “you have a lot to look forward to,” “we must look forward to life,” “there’s still so much to look forward to,” etc. A Pale View of Hills will also leave its readers with a myriad of possibilities to consider, but only for them to discover later that, probably, much guesswork has been futile here. You can change your choices at any time by visiting Cookie preferences, as described in the Cookie notice. Born after the war, Keiko somehow feels its effects through a kind of osmosis, is equally traumatized and never apparently feels safe in her own skin. We hadn't experienced the war years, but we'd at least been brought up by parents whose lives had been indelibly shaped by them.It leaves so many questions unanswered and I suppose every reader has their own theory as to who Etsuko really is, or what really happened in Nagasaki. A Pale View of Hills brings to mind the indeterminacy and the subjective nature of human vision/memory. I wonder if this is a metaphor for the burden of guilt she later carries about her daughter's death. The novel is tight, 75% dialogue, exquisitely concise, devoid of flowery sentences/descriptions, no bullshit and beautiful.
During a visit from her daughter, Niki, Etsuko reflects on her own life as a young woman in Japan, and how she left that country to live in England. There are lots of hints that Etsuko’s telling of the tale of Sachiko and Mariko is her way of narrating the story of herself and Keiko. Ishiguro’s novels are heavily populated by reticent people, who suppress their feelings, hold in their emotions, and lie to themselves. Ogata-san is stuck on an idea of the past, unable to accept the changes that have taken place since the end of the war. Another disturbing scene is when Etsuko/Sachiko drowns Keiko/Mariko’s only playmates – her beloved kittens.
Even when Etsuko is pregnant with Keiko in the novel, other people notice that she may not be happy, but Etsuko assures them that she is. This is one of many professions in which she stresses how she’s trying to tell it all as it was, but the further the story goes, the less the reader will be inclined to take her words at face value.