If I was feeling in a generous mood I could say that A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro’s debut novel, proves just how much Ishiguro has matured as an author. If I had to be completely honest, however, I would say that I am fairly mystified by A Pale View of Hills. How can this novel share the same author as The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go? Its narrative is tedious, its structure incoherent, its characterisation non-existent, and its protagonist dull. Its worst ‘sin’ however lies in its dialogues. They were, I kid you not, atrocious.
But let’s take a step back. What is this novel even about? What is even this book?
The narrative opens in England. Etsuko’s daughter Niki has come to visit her and the two mention the recent(ish) suicide of Keiko, Etsuko’s eldest daughter. Already here I was struck by the inauthentic way the characters spoke and behaved.
In a typical Ishiguro fashion, the narrative then delves into Etsuko’s recollections of her first marriage and her experiences as a married young woman in Japan. She meets a single mother called Sachiko who is not particularly kind or likeable but spends most of her time complaining or talking about herself. She happens to have a daughter who is a brat. Nothing seems to happen. The story occasionally jumps forward to Etsuko in England and I found these jumps rather jarring. They provided no true glimpse into their dynamic let alone their shared history. Niki and Etsuko said nothing of note so I didn’t entirely understand why we had to have these sections set in the ‘present’.
I guess the narrative does succeed in identifying and underlining generational differences. First between those of Etsuko’s age and her father-in-law then between Etsuko and her daughter. It also gives us some insight into the shift occurring in Japan post-WWII (western influences, a ‘loss’ of tradition). Other than that…yeah. This novel doesn’t do much. It doesn’t delve into motherhood, nor does it address Keiko’s suicide. It has a few obvious scenes showing how Etsuko’s husband and father-in-law view women as ‘lesser’, or as not entitled to the same autonomy as them…and that’s it, folks.
And now to the dreaded dialogue. What the fuck. Nothing sounded credible. No one spoke like an actual person and worst still the amount of repetition within these dialogues was laughable. It didn’t make these conversations more realistic (in a mumblecore sort of way) it just made it seem as if the characters couldn’t hear each other or thought that they were speaking to someone who isn’t ‘quick’ on the uptake so they had to reiterate everything at least 3 or 4 times (which maybe could have worked if this had been a play by beckett). And even the way the characters responded to their environment and or the situations they were in struck me as disingenuous. For example, at one point Sachiko’s daughter tells Etsuko that some kids killed her cat. And Etsuko response is along the lines ‘I wonder why they did that’. She then tells off Sachiko’s daughter because she threw rocks at these horrid little children. Later, Etsuko is watching over Sachiko’s daughter, who then runs off. Etsuko eventually locates her and instead of reprimanding her or asking why she ran off, she’s like ‘why are you making that face? you are making a weird face! why? I must know!’ (or something to that extent). Who, who even talks like that? The characters’ responses were way off. If I started repeating myself as they did people would think I’m glitching or something.
There was also something profoundly English about the way the characters behaved and spoke that made it even harder for me to ‘immerse’ myself in what was to be a post-WWII Japan setting.
This was a bad novel and compared to many other debut novels…tis’ a weak one. I’m still having a hard time believing that Ishiguro wrote this. If I had to sum up this novel in one word it would be yikes.
my rating: ★★☆☆☆