A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro

Here is what I think goes on in A Pale View of Hills.  I think.  (There will be spoilers, sort of.)  The frame story concerns the protagonist Etsuko receiving a visit from her daughter Niki, not long after her older daughter, Keiko, has committed suicide.  Etsuko is remembering a friend she knew long ago, when she still lived in Japan, a woman called Sachiko and her young daughter Mariko.  And I believe that what is going on is that Sachiko, actually, is Etsuko, and that Etsuko is trying to make her memories of having been a slightly careless mother to Mariko/Keiko less painful, recasting herself in the role of concerned friend.  I am not positive about this, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.  If you have read it, please tell me what you think about this.

As you can tell from the uncertainty of the above synopsis, this is a bewildering book.  I closed it and thought Huh, and then realized that the only way for the story to make sense at all – by which I meant, what did Etsuko go through to get out of Japan, that occupied Niki’s interest so much – was for Sachiko and Etsuko to be the same person.  Particularly as we know that Etsuko remarries to produce Niki.  And because Niki keeps going on about how brave and impressive Etsuko was, getting out of Japan, and Etsuko keeps trying to kill that line of conversation.

Still, I’m not sure at all.  A Pale View of Hills is elliptical like Ishiguro’s books are; I enjoy this about his work.  I thought the relationship between Etsuko and her father-in-law was touching, especially as compared to the way the father-in-law relates to Etsuko’s first husband, Jiro.  I enjoyed the book, but I am not positive that I understood it.

  • i’ve host (i think now?) three different “book clubs” about this book on my blog, and we’ve never come to any consensus on it! different people read different levels of darkness into it. but yeah, generally love it, even when we don’t understand!

    thanks for throwing down yours 🙂

  • i also have read somewhere that ishiguro himself said he doesn’t know the true story–he was writing about the way humans botch their own memories. he’s also written about his own debut something along the lines of “dang i was obtuse back then.”

    if that helps at all.

  • jennysbooks

    I think it’s a really interesting book, and I’m glad that I own it so I can read it again and reconsider. Very fascinating. And yes, I’m pleased to find Ishiguro intended for it to remain indefinite! I think he’s a really elegant, gorgeous writer, and am definitely looking forward to reading the rest of his books. 🙂

  • ppc

    James makes it clear that we must treat others with mercy, not with judgment or partiality (prejudice):