While decent, this is clearly a first novel, and made me appreciate The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go all the more.
In A Pale View of Hills, Etsuko, a Japanese immigrant in England, reflects on the recent suicide of her adult daughter, and on her own past in postwar Nagasaki. Her reflections about the past mostly center on her relationship with an odd mother and daughter who were briefly her neighbors.
Like Ishiguro’s other books, this one features an unreliable first-person narrator, with a slow unfolding of the past and things unsaid lurking beneath the surface. It is an interesting and thought-provoking tale, and while the sheer inanity and repetitiveness of the characters’ conversations is often frustrating, the book does a good job creating a picture of a disturbed woman whose focus on the superficial hides ugly things underneath.
Compared to his more renowned works, though, this first novel is a bit clunky, a bit muddled. While Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day are excellently-structured books, this one has some extraneous elements. While those two books have biased, often oblivious narrators, we can see what’s going on beneath Kathy’s and Stevens’s tales; Etsuko, on the other hand, is so unreliable that the reader is left wondering whether any of the other characters in her tale even existed, whether any of the events in fact happened, and if so, to whom. In an interview
, Ishiguro himself called the end of A Pale View “too baffling,” a result of inexperience--and I applaud him for identifying the flaws in his own writing and correcting them in later books. That's the mark of a writer who cares about his craft, and it clearly paid off in the later books.
What I think happened: Before they left Japan, Etsuko considered killing Keiko so that she could be rid of her and have a fresh start; this is why she kept carrying around that rope that "Mariko" was so creeped out by. I don't think Etsuko killed the other children though--why would she do that? Mariko was Keiko, although I don't think Etsuko could have been Sachiko--too much went into Etsuko's life (the husband, father-in-law, noodle-shop friend, etc.) for it all to have been made-up. Yeah, okay, it's baffling.
Overall, this one is an intriguing, somewhat creepy tale that’s worth reading if you like psychological fiction with unreliable narrators (and short enough that you probably won't regret it too much in any case); but if you have not yet read Ishiguro’s better-known works, best start there.