Matt's Reviews > An Artist of the Floating World

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
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's review
Nov 23, 2012

really liked it
Read in June, 2011

Being Ishiguro's second published novel, there are some stylistic differences (very minor) compared to his more recent short story set "Nocturnes." That said, it is characteristically Ishiguro because, as in all his work, the matter(s) at hand is elegiac. While not as melancholic as, say, "Never Let Me Go (which by the end is absolutely tear-jerking)," "Artist..." is very much about loss, specifically, as it relates to tradition.

Ishiguro frames this theme with a narrator (a famous artist named "Oji") who, over the course of the narrative, reflects on his past, spanning over four generations (his father's line, his own, his daughters', and perhaps most importantly, his grandchild's). Oji's reflections are what one would think an old man's would be like: meandering. He often starts explaining one event, which then takes him off on a, sometimes extended, tangent that reminds him of the initial event. However, Oji always reins in these tangential moments, gently, making them seem hardly unnatural (they are, if anything, wavelike).

Oji provides a unique perspective of Japanese culture prior to, and after the war. Ishiguro, however, leaves much of the speculation of Oji's life during the war, up for interpretation, as Oji implies things he did, but never lays it out in great detail. Related to this, for an artist (who should be very attentive to detail one would think), Oji is very utilitarian in his descriptions. This is not to say explication is boring, or simple, more that they are impressionistic--they incite the reader to fill in details, making the reading experience quick, but rewarding.

This (and I hate to apply this term to a Japanese-British author) "Zen-like" style, which came to be associated with Ishiguro, is fully deployed here. It is easy to see how this novel set the method of writing for Ishiguro in many of his later works. While not being adolescent, the writing is certainly still young, still very self-conscious at times, but if self-consciousness is the only thing to fault in this novel, then that's a minor detail, I think.

Where, though, is the loss, the elegy? It is illustrated via several elements: first, in Oji's own path to becoming an artist (his tutelage and eventual disconnection from his master), second, in the loss of tradition felt by Oji following the war, and third, in how Oji's grandson, Ichiro, is being raised in a rapidly "westernizing" culture (he is often shown acting out American pop-culture icons likely seen in magazines or in theatres). For all this, though, Oji, and maybe Ishiguro, does not mourn the loss of tradition, or lament things he had done in his life. Far from it, I think Oji maintains pride and conviction in his actions while others he'd known had either tried to distance themselves from their past, or...committed suicide out of perceived dishonor. Oji does feel out of place at times, but he acknowledges that, even without the traditional Japanese spirit he grew up knowing, this new generation, at least, seems happy, and willing to grow and adapt to the new demands of a modern (or is it post-modern) world.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Chase a pale view of the hills was his first published novel

Matt Chase wrote: "a pale view of the hills was his first published novel"

My apologies for not researching that. I'll fix this.
Thank you.

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