Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Book Review: An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

Forgive the present lull while I explore more things to talk about. Currently, I'm planning to delve into crafting more, so if I get the chance, I'll post some tutorials and the likes.

For now, An Artist of the Floating World, a book review. (I know right? Of all things, a book? But I'm a bibliophile and happen to think everyone should read. Plus, the library's free!)

An Artist of the Floating World is a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a British-Japanese author. Unlike the other Japanese writer I know of (Haruki Murakami), Ishiguro writes in English, and in truth, has been a British citizen since 1982. But the novel still typifies a Japanese viewpoint, especially that of 'mono no aware' (literally, the 'pathos of things').

Here is a post-WWII story narrated by an aging, retired painter, Masuji Ono. Outwardly tranquil, Ono spends most of his days tending his garden, repairing the house, drinking with old associates and worrying over his two grown-up daughters. But it is a tranquility marred by his past. The celebrated painter slowly finds himself emotionally dogged by his old career - paintings and works that were deeply affected by the rise of Japanese militraism.

Unlike Murakami's surrealism, Ishiguro writes stories that are more grounded in reality, with subtle storytelling. Superficially, not much is happening. Ono's younger daughter, whose miai (matchmake) had failed last year, is going through another miai again. There is also the young grandson, and Ono's ambivalence to the western heroes his grandson idolizes (Popeye the Sailor man, the horse-riding cowboy). Here and there, the narrator slips smoothly into reminiscence, recounting his days as a younger artist. And it is in those flashbacks that the reader gets to piece together the details of the protagonist's life, as well as his underlying personality.

The entirety of the book is written from Ono's first-person viewpoint, having no input from other characters at all. And at times you get the sense that Ono is an unreliable narrator, who tries to get over his mistakes by downplaying them, as well as having his own brand of false humility.

It's slow in pacing, and whatever tension there is is not shown head-on, but rather, obliquely, through the distorted lenses of the main character. Its strength is also its weakness. The subtlety and evenness of its delivery can feel flat depending on your own personal preference. The conclusion of the novel, like many of Ishiguro's novels, is non-conclusive, and you are left with a vague sense that you have ended up in the place where you have first began.

However, it is still a rich novel, showing the clashing viewpoints of the postwar generation and Ono's older generation, the cultural and lifestyle changes, if only as an offshoot rather than a full-out discussion. Readers new to Ishiguro's works should give this a try (or perhaps 'The Remains of The Day' his later work, which I heard was more matured.)


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review. I really liked his other book, "Never Let Me Go". Haunting.


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