First Chapter First Paragraph: An Artist of the Floating World

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

This week’s first paragraph is from An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, who has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

An Artist of the Floating World (Faber Fiction Classics) by [Ishiguro, Kazuo]

It begins:

If on a sunny day you climb the steep path leading from the little wooden bridge still referred to around here as ‘the Bridge of Hesitation’ you will not have  to walk far before the roof of my house becomes visible between the tops of two gingko trees. Even if it did not occupy such a commanding position on the hill, the house would still stand out from all others nearby, so that as you come up the path, you may find yourself wondering what sort of wealthy man owns it.

Blurb (from Amazon):

It is 1948. Japan is rebuilding her cities after the calamity of World War Two, her people putting defeat behind them and looking to the future. The celebrated artist, Masuji Ono, fills his days attending to his garden, his house repairs, his two grown daughters and his grandson; his evenings drinking with old associates in quiet lantern-lit bars. His should be a tranquil retirement. But as his memories continually return to the past – to a life and career deeply touched by the rise of Japanese militarism – a dark shadow begins to grow over his serenity.

There are some books that draw me in right from the beginning – and this is one of them. I’m hoping it lives up to its promise. I like the way Ishiguro paints a picture setting the scene in my mind as though I’m standing there looking at the view.

What do you think?  Would you continue reading?


A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is the cover of my copy of the book

A rather strange book; its ambiguous content left me wondering just what had happened and how to interpret it.

On the surface this is simply the story of a widow, Etsuko living in Britain, as she reminisces about her past life in Japan shortly after the war, living at the edge of the wasteland of Nagasaki. She is haunted by the past and by the suicide of her daughter, Keiko, who was never happy living in Britain. Her younger daughter, Niki, visits her and it is during this visit that Etsuko remembers a friendship she had had briefly with a mysterious woman, Saicho, once wealthy but now reduced to poverty, and her little daughter, Mariko.  Saicho often leaves Mariko to fend for herself, seemingly unconcerned about what she does and where she is, which troubles Etsuko, who is expecting her first daughter who I assume is Keiko.

There are parallels between Saicho and Etsuko. Just as Saicho is hoping to leave Japan with Frank, her American friend, so Etsuko (without her Japanese husband, Jiro; what happened to him is not explained) left Japan to live in Britain with her British husband. Their daughters are disturbed characters, unhappy, solitary and distant from their mothers.

As I read I began to wonder about Etsuko, especially when she says:

Memory, I realize, can be an unreliable thing; often it is heavily coloured by the circumstances in which one remembers, and no doubt this applies to certain of the recollections I have gathered here. (page 156)

To say much more would reveal too much of the story, but when I came to a sentence where the pronoun changes I was even more unsure just what was meant and what actually happened. This is a book I need to re-read in the light of its ambiguity.

However the events play out this is a beautifully written book, describing the countryside around and in Nagasaki after the Second World War, referring to life before the war, and how not only the landscape but also the people and traditions were altered in the aftermath of the atomic bomb. There is an awful lot packed within its 183 pages. It’s a fascinating story of loss, grief, guilt and shame.

A Pale View of Hills is Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel. It won the 1982 Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize.

My Week in Books: 11 November 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: Currently I’m reading two books: Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin. I’d like to finish this today.

BlurbHands in his pockets, Rebus turned to face Cafferty.
They were old men now, similar builds, similar backgrounds. Sat together in a pub, the casual onlooker might mistake them for pals who’d known one another since school.
But their history told a different story.

Retirement doesn’t suit John Rebus. He wasn’t made for hobbies, holidays or home improvements. Being a cop is in his blood.

So when DI Siobhan Clarke asks for his help on a case, Rebus doesn’t need long to consider his options.

Clarke’s been investigating the death of a senior lawyer whose body was found along with a threatening note. On the other side of Edinburgh, Big Ger Cafferty – Rebus’s long-time nemesis – has received an identical note and a bullet through his window.

Now it’s up to Clarke and Rebus to connect the dots and stop a killer.

Meanwhile, DI Malcolm Fox joins forces with a covert team from Glasgow who are tailing a notorious crime family. There’s something they want, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

It’s a game of dog eat dog – in the city, as in the wild.

I’m also reading  Mrs Jordan’s Profession: the Story of a Great Actress and a King by Claire Tomalin, which I’ve been reading very slowly for a few weeks now. I hope to finish it soon. I’m up to 1812/13 when Dora and Prince William have parted and Dora is trying to come to terms with her new situation and pick up the pieces of her life. It’s very moving.

Blurb: Acclaimed as the greatest comic actress of her day, Dora Jordan lived a quite different role off-stage as lover to Prince William, third son of George III. Unmarried, the pair lived in a villa on the Thames and had ten children together until William, under pressure from royal advisers, abandoned her. The story of how Dora moved between the worlds of the eighteenth-century theatre and happy domesticity, of her fights for her family and her career makes a classic story of royal perfidy and female courage.

Then: I recently finished A Fear of Dark Water by Craig Russell. This is the sixth Jan Fabel book, but can be read as a stand-alone. Russell is now one of my favourite authors. This book is so good I raced through it.

Blurb: Just as a major environmental summit is about to start in Hamburg, a massive storm hits the city. When the flood waters recede, a headless torso is found washed up.

Initially, Jan Fabel of the Murder Commission fears it may be another victim of a serial rapist and murderer who stalks his victims through internet social network sites, then dumps their bodies in waterways around the city.

But the truth of the situation is far more complex and even more sinister. Fabel’s investigations lead him to a secretive environmental Doomsday cult called ‘Pharos’, the brainchild of a reclusive, crippled billionaire, Dominik Korn.

Fabel’s skills as a policeman are tested to their utmost as he finds himself drawn into an unfamiliar, high tech world of cyberspace, where anyone can be anybody or anything they want. And he quickly realises that he is no longer the hunter, but the hunted.

I’ll write more about this book in a later post.

Next: always tentative choices as when the time comes I may choose other books, but right now I’m thinking of reading Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War by Susan Southard, a book that follows the lives of five teenage survivors of the atomic bombing of the civilian population of Nagasak from 1945 to the present day Southard. She  unveils the lives they have led, their injuries in the annihilation of the bomb, the dozens of radiation-related cancers and illnesses they have suffered, and the humiliating and frightening choices about marriage they were forced into as a result of their fears of the genetic diseases that may be passed through their families for generations to come.

And as I like to have both a non-fiction and a fiction book on the go together I may read A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro, which has post-war life in Japan as its backdrop to a story of memory, suicide, and psychological trauma.