Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Kazuo Ishiguro’

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

The copy of An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro which I read was the 30th anniversary edition.

As The Remains of the Day is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read, I had high hopes of An Artist of the Floating World even though this was a very early novel in Ishiguro’s career.

The story didn’t disappoint. It is narrated by an elderly Japanese artist, Masuji Ono, as he looked back over his life with a critical eye. The story was set soon after World War Two when Ono’s reputation and art, previously held in high esteem by his peers and his community, was no longer respected. As he told his story Ono gradually realised that the nationalistic paintings he produced after leaving his art community were propaganda rather than art. With this realisation came a growing shame for ideas he previously endorsed and for his political actions during the war, which increased as he realised his daughter’s marital prospects had been harmed by his choices.

The story is set in a time when values were changing quickly. Ono was almost a relic, his opinions no longer valued by his daughters and son-in-laws or by his young grandson. The younger generation in this story looked towards America for their values, which included democracy and the rights of individuals, rather than honouring and subscribing to traditional Japanese values.

The characters’ formal and polite conversational styles meant that their true meaning was often unclear, to me, anyway. Ono and his family danced around their truths and hid behind exchanges so tactful that they were almost meaningless. A single blunt conversation between Ono and his art teacher when Ono first began to paint in a nationalistic style was the only clear exchange between characters who disagreed in the entire book.

Ono’s story appeared to be told with humility but this eventually showed as false, as was his version of events. As the story continued it became apparent that Ono only told (and possibly believed himself) a version of the events which suited his own self-image.

My edition started with an introduction by the author which I read after finishing the story, in case it assumed I had already read the book and wanted to learn more about points that a new reader would prefer to discover for themselves.

In this case, the introduction didn’t spoil anything. Instead, the author talked about about where he and his wife were living and the work they were doing when he wrote An Artist of the Floating World, along with the mechanics of how and where he wrote, and the details of a breakthrough in his writing style which he experienced at this time which happily influenced the rest of his career. I found the introduction to be very interesting.

An Artist of the Floating World was good, but I expect I would have appreciated it more had I not read The Remains of the Day first. That is a hard book for an author to live up to.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro


The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is a fantasy novel, and is completely different from the two other books I have read by this author, The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

The story follows the travels of an elderly Christian couple, Axl and Beatrice, who live in England just after the time of King Arthur, along with ogres and dragons and other mythical beasts. Despite being of an age where their knowledge would traditionally be valued, Axl and Beatrice are tormented by children and are not permitted to have a candle in their room, which is a long way from the community’s fire. Both Axl and Beatrice are concerned about their own and their community’s forgetfulness about matters that have previously been important to them.

Axl and Beatrice clearly have a great love for each other, although Axl calling Beatrice ‘Princess’ every time he spoke to her was irritating.

Beatrice and Axl set off on a journey to visit their son, although at times they are not even sure if they ever had a son, as they cannot clearly remember their past. Early in the journey they met with a boatman whose role is to ferry people to an island, either together if their love is true, or if not, alone.

Axl and Beatrice arrived at a town where the townspeople were in a panicked frenzy over a boy who has been taken by demons. When the boy was rescued by a visiting warrior and returned, the superstitions of the townspeople endangered the boy’s life, so he and the warrior left town with Axl and Beatrice, and continued their travels together.

I stopped reading at about this point, because I couldn’t figure out what was going on, or what anything meant. Plus, I kept getting distracted, and thinking things like, ‘I must go and make the bed’, or ‘The bathroom really needs cleaning’, which I think actually meant, I should find another book to read instead of The Buried Giant, as it wasn’t for me. I didn’t even flick through to the end, to see if Axl and Beatrice made it back to the boatman to take their last journey together.

The Remains of the Day is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I loved Never Let Me Go, so I won’t be put off reading other books by this author. I don’t usually enjoy fantasy, so I’m putting my disinterest in The Buried Giant down to that.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro


I don’t know if I can read any more books by Kazuo Ishiguro, because his stories make my heart hurt. I’ve been thinking about Never Let Me Go for days, and suspect I’ll be thinking about the questions this story raises for a long time to come.

Never Let Me Go made me want to howl for Kazuo Ishiguro’s characters, not just little sniffles or hiccups, but the kind where you throw your head back and just let it all out, loud howls of pure pain. I’m not sure I can take any more, although I’m not sure I can live knowing that there are other books this author has written that I haven’t read either.

The Remains of the Day by this author is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The story left me questioning the balance of importance that I give to work and family, and forming vague intentions to work less and laugh more. (I haven’t achieved this yet. The current plan is to work hard now so I can laugh more later). Then I read Nocturnes, a collection of short stories. I wasn’t left with any lasting impressions other than that I enjoyed the stories while I was reading them.

If you plan to read Kazo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, then don’t read any more of my review. This is a book which is best read without any foreknowledge. Don’t even read the blurb on the back cover. Just pick it up and start reading.

For the rest of you, Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy H, who starts telling the story when she is 31. Kathy’s story is entwined with the stories of her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy. The three have known each other all their lives, having grown up together at Hailsham, a home for children in an alternate version of England in the 1990’s. (Here we go again, my favourite genre; alternate reality).

At 31, Kathy is a ‘carer,’ who is to become a ‘donor’ at an unknown time in her future. What being a carer or a donor consists of is a mystery, until the realisation eventually dawns on the reader. For me, this was around half way through the book. The characters in this book are always aware of their destiny, because the staff at Hailsham tell the children what their futures will consist of, albeit when they are slightly too young to understand the information. Kazuo Ishiguro does this to his readers too. The information is there, from the very first page, but the reader doesn’t have the ability to understand what is going on until they are ready to put it all together for themselves.

Kathy starts telling her story from when she and her friend Ruth were best friends at the age of 14. At the same time, Tommy was being bullied by his peers. From the beginning, Kathy tries to give Tommy the tools he needs emotionally to stop the bullying and eventually, he breaks away from being a victim. Tommy is always a good person, and I desperately wanted him to be cared for and loved and treated well. Ruth, on the other hand, was manipulative and often mean. Somehow though,  Ruth and Tommy ended up as a couple when they were older teenagers and Kathy as a friend to both.

The students at Hailsham don’t have parents, or family. They are cared for and taught by staff who have created what they believe is an idyllic world for their students. When they are old enough, the students leave Hailsham for another protected environment, where they are free to have relationships (with others of their kind) and see a bit of the world before they become carers.

Not knowing what is going on, and suspecting the worst (and all of my suspicions were correct) was horrifying and nightmarish. It was almost better to find out the worst, although now I’m left with all of these questions about morals and ethics and what I would do if I needed something a donor has, either for myself or for someone I loved.

I can’t understand why none of the characters tried to escape their futures? What they are can’t be determined by appearances, visually they blend in with ‘ordinary’ people. They never even question the fairness of what will happen to them. Kathy and Tommy question their future eventually, but only up to a point. They understand they are different and accept their fate completely.

I didn’t want Never Let Me Go to end, because I wanted to continue hoping that the characters would get the opportunity to live their lives fully. I wanted a community for them, family, babies, and freedom. However, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were blessed by their love and friendship with each other and in many ways, by their sense of purpose and I suspect this is why I cared for them so much.


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