A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

After asking the question ‘why don’t men read books by women’ the other day I suddenly realised that I had been reading lots of novels by female authors and not a lot by men. I decided that it was time to rectify this, but which male author to choose. I plumped for Kazuo Ishiguro and his debut novel ‘A Pale View of Hills’ in the end. Having read two novels by Ishiguro in the past, one ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ (read pre-blog) which I didn’t like so much and the other ‘Never Let Me Go’ which I adored, I was intrigued to see where his first book would land, would I love it or be left feeling rather nonchalant about it?

‘A Pale View of Hills’ opens in England as Etsuko’s second daughter Niki comes to stay with her mother after the suicide of her older half sister Keiko. A small incident which seems like nothing to anyone but Etsuko finds her looking back at her life in Japan before she moved away and a brief friendship, of sorts, which she had with another woman Sachiko. Through almost dual narratives a rather eerie set of stories starts to come to light. In the present we watch as Niki and her mother start to become fearful and uneasy of her Keiko’s bedroom which could be grief or could it be something more? In Etsuko’s past we find not only a post war and recovering Nagasaki as the occupation looks like it might end, but the mysterious nature of her acquaintance Sachiko.

It’s interesting to see someone revealing not one but two past lives and both have a certain mystery about them. Why in the modern day did Keiko kill herself and why don’t either her mother, who when people ask says her eldest daughter is fine not dead, or sister, who never went to her own sister’s funeral because ‘she always made me feel miserable’, deal with it and almost deny it happened? In the past we not only have what is a time of great change, which through Etsuko’s first husband Jiro and his father, not only for the people and place (both amazingly depicted by Ishiguro) but for Etsuko herself who is carrying her first child. There is also the great mystery of who the woman from across the river is and why she wants Sachiko’s daughter Mariko to follow her into the woods?

I am worried I have made it sound like a book that covers too much and doesn’t know where it’s going and this is far from the case. Ishiguro masterfully, and it should be noted in under 200 pages, makes these narratives weave together (obviously they are both Etsuko’s life but its more than just that) and then takes a few twists and turns that will have the reader speeding through the last few pages completely gripped before leaving the reader with much to think about and ponder after its conclusion. It is an effect that would leave you rather unsatisfied if you weren’t reading a book that leaves you wanting to guess and wanting to figure out the final pieces of this book equivalent of a jigsaw.

I found the women in the book fascinating, in particular Sachiko, who is a very strange and enigmatic woman who teases Etsuko with slight visions into her life but never giving anything away too much or contradicting anything that does. My only slight criticism would be the men. I did find the chapters with Etsuko’s husband and father in law slowed the book down a little, for example one particular chess game and its minimal need in the book became a little dull, yet without them and seeing things through their eyes a changing nation wouldn’t have been so easy to capture I don’t think. The women did really live and breath for me, and how Ishiguro did that whilst making them incredibly disarming with their secrecy I don’t know.

I really enjoyed ‘A Pale View of Hills’. It picked me up, carried me off and then left me wanting more and also really thinking about it long after I had put it down. It wasn’t the spooky tale I initially thought it might be but I was pleased with the new direction it took. I liked the aspect that there were mysteries that Ishiguro leaves rather inconclusive clues (I think that is right) to the reader through out and then leaves you to make your own mind up about what they might mean. He trusts his readers and seems want you to do some of the work yourself and that to me really appealed. It’s not going to be a book everyone loves, its one I would recommend they give a try though. 8/10

This book was kindly given to me by the publishers.

Who else has read this book and what did you think? What did you make of the ending (though if you want to discuss it please mention it could be a spoiler in the comments)? What other Ishiguro books have you read, and which one would you recommend I try next?


Filed under Kazuo Ishiguro, Review

17 responses to “A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. I have a very early edition with just about the worst cover ever sitting at home. Ishiguro is not going to give me poops and giggles so I’m waiting till I’m in the right mood for it.

    • Ooooh never say never Jessica. He might be laugh aloud but there are very wry moments in his work here and there. I am a firm fan now and will be reading another soon.

  2. I loved Never Let Me Go. I thought Ishiguro has an uncanny ability (as a male) to get into the female mind, and can only imagine with this novel about sisters and mothers that the skill is repeated many times over. Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll be picking this one up!

    • I was thinking about the men writing in the female mind yesterday when I finally got around to answering everyones comments on ‘Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women’ and your right he is one of the very few men that I think do… though I say that as a man hahaha.

  3. I loved Never Let Me Go and liked A Pale View of the Hills, but you shouldn’t read Ishiguro without reading The Remains of the Day! A fantastic book completely different again to these two books. Its a must!

    • I am holding off reading Remains of the Day until last as everyone says its so good. I am like this with a dinner, I always want to save my favourite bits of a main curse till my last mouthfuls.

  4. My favourite Ishiguro is Remains of the Day too. It’s close to perfect as you can get in a novel. I read A Pale View of the Hills earlier this year and, probably because I didn’t know what to expect, found it quite frustrating. There is no doubt that Ishiguro is a masterful writer, but I do agree that the ending was ambiguous (and it’s probably the effect he was after) but I was left a little too confused. I had so many questions. It would be perfect for book group because you could probably discuss it for hours.

    • As close to perfect as you can get… now that really is a recommendatio Sakura, it also makes me think I should stick to my guns and save it till last.

      It does have an ambiguous nature this book, but like you said I think thats the idea and as frustrating as it is I like the fact he wants the reader to work it out themselves.

  5. Sue

    I had an Ishiguro thing some years ago, I remember liking Artist of the Floating World as well as this one and Remains of the Day.

  6. lubylou12

    Great review Simon, I recently read Never Let Me Go and loved it, since then I’ve being wondering which of Ishiguro’s books to read next. The story line sounds great so I think I might just have to give it ago.

    • I was thrilled when I saw how much you loved Never Let Me Go, I have heard a lot of people just dont warm to it and that I find a real shame, its a book that uses its cold narrative in such a clever way. Anyway, before I start gushing about that book again, I would definitely say give this a go, though if you try another I can see if its worth reading hahaha.

  7. Eva

    I loved this one! I think it’s my second favourite after Remains of the Day. 😀

    • I have only recently fallen under Ishiguro’s spell so it pleases me that there are more great ones to come. Have you read any others Eva? Any suggestions of where to go next?

  8. Priyanka

    I tried reading The Unconsoled until the narrative started getting a little tough to follow. A part of my problem was that I took it up as a holiday read while vacationing with friends, while Ishiguro is meant to be read in solitude, in my opinion. I promptly picked up Northanger Abbey and enjoyed it more than I should have! I’m yet to pick up this particular Ishiguro again.

    I’d read, and loved, both The Remains Of The Day and Never Let Me Go. I also liked A Pale View Of Hills, despite its ambiguity. I did not find When We Were Orphans impressive until the very end, but the final revelation was gut-wrenching. On the whole, I recommend that you skip this one. Its plot is simply not gripping enough.

    I haven’t read An Artist Of The Floating World yet. Like you, I’m trying to save some Ishiguro for later. Unfortunately for me, it seems that I may have to finish my dinner with leftovers!

  9. I read that book years ago and found it haunting. Later a girlfriend of mine read it and pointed out a single sentence in the book that suddenly made me realize I had misunderstood something. I can’t remember the details -sorry- but if my gf was correct, this is a book that deserves a closer reading.
    (I do recall that creepy child in the flashback.)

    Here’s another book I’d like to recommend. “Forgetting Elena” by Edmund White. Another atmospheric tale.

  10. I recommend “The Unconsoled”, Ishiguro’s magnum opus, IMHO., Simon. Caveat would only be: read if you like Kafka-esque, hypnotically(even boringly!) mesmering, repetitive; u feel u are in a loop, like the protagonist!Steve

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