An artist of the floating world

As I imagine is the case with many readers, my introduction to Kazuo Ishiguro came in the form of the wonderful Remains of the day, a heartwarming book I read during a tough time in my life and consequently, took much comfort from and was very sad to finish, having become so very attached to the wonderful characters, so masterfully created and so very British, something that some may find hard to believe when they read the name of the author.

Ishiguro was born in Japan and grew up in England, a fact that accounts for the, I feel, rather English sounding ‘voice’ in both of these books. Although An artist of the floating world is indeed set in post-war Japan, we are told this story in a manner I would expect from Ishiguro and one that is worlds away from the likes of Haruki Murakami, whose mixture of very particular magical realism makes him feel decidedly Eastern and ‘exotic’ to a simple Northern lass like myself.

Moving from these musings on questions of style to those of substance….This is the story of retired artist, Masuji Ono, living in a a city that is clearly worlds apart from the one which he inhabited in his heyday.  He seems a thoughtful and peaceful man, yet it seems that in reality he is an isolated member of a forgotten generation, an unreliable narrator who constantly alludes to ‘past actions’ that he feels a sense of responsibility for. What are these ‘actions’? Telling the truth I’d be happy if someone could enlighten me…

This is a nicely painted (excuse the pun) story, and I do harbor a secret affection for Japanese culture and traditions which makes it hard not to like this book. There is no real beginning, middle and end, we simply amble along after Ono as he attempts to find his place in a world ravaged by a terrible war yet ready for change, ambling along after his grown daughters and lively grandson.

Since undertaking some further reading into the idea for this novel, I’ve since discovered lengthy descriptions of what exactly Ono’s past actions as an ‘artist of the floating world’ are supposed to be, tied closely in with Japanese militarism, that make him so keen to absolve himself in the present.  How such detailed conclusions have been made I have no idea. I believe we as readers are supposed to be kept in the dark somewhat .. this is not a ‘slap you in the face story’, it retains a bit of mystique that certainly kept me hooked throughout.

The world is changing rapidly and I had a great deal of sympathy for this old man, however little he reveals of himself and whatever his past actions. I did find myself needing another two hundred pages to reveal this past of his but no matter.  Poor Ono is sitting in the shadow of a couple of great ‘classics’ of literature (I am also thinking of the offering recently intruded upon by Keira Knightly that I haven’t read yet ..) and that cannot be helped.  This book is worth a read, any of Ishiguro’s literature is, and we must except this for what it is; a tale that happily ‘floats’ along and fulfills its purpose; to provoke and tease and leave us wondering what really did happen…

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