Michele's Reviews > A Pale View of Hills

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
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Aug 17, 08

Every once in a while, a book surprises you on the way to its ending. After the first few pages of this book, I figured I knew what to expect - a well written realist novel about a displaced Japanese woman in England who reminisces about her youth while contemplating the choices her children have made. And for most of the book, that impression is borne out. It nicely describes the two countries, how people act and react, and what life has been like for this character throughout her time in both places.

The novel even does a very good job of replicating the varying syntax between English and Japanese - in the reminiscences, the dialogue does not flow as it would in English, and the translation is in some cases very literal, which makes the dialogue reflect the difference in thought patterns that speaking (and thinking) in another language requires.

Then, only ten pages from the end, the pronouns change. Where you expect 'she' there is 'the child' and where you expect 'you' there is 'we'. And all of a sudden you're unsure who is talking to whom, and when, and you start to realize that you have been taking what your narrator says at face value when perhaps you shouldn't have.

After all, the narrator of the story tells us more than once that perhaps her memory is faulty, perhaps she is mixing things up. But such a confession, such reluctance to appear certain, such a recognition of the false nature of memory, does the opposite of what the words should do. Instead of making the reader doubt the narrator, such qualification about the haziness of memory leads the reader to trust the narrator, after all, she has recognized that she's telling a story, and because she's telling a story, we're willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Then suddenly, the pronoun shift at the end introduces the possibility that not only did the narrator perhaps get some details wrong, leave some things out, change some names, be not as innocent as she seems, but maybe these omissions and alterations weren't accidental and we've been led to believe her a good person when perhaps she was lying about those details because she wasn't such a nice person after all, in fact, maybe she was a really nasty person.

I'm sure if you haven't read the book, all this sounds a bit confusing, and you might be wondering what the deal is anyway, but from a narrative theory point of view, the ability of such a small thing - a few pronouns - to throw the entire preceeding narrative into doubt is pretty impressive.

I think I will need to reread this book to figure it out.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Christine Thanks so much for reaffirming what I thought about this book. I began to get deeply confused as I got to the end, with the pronoun switches and all, and knowing Ishiguro's track record of unreliable and secretive narrators, I began to suspect that something quite different was going on beyond what could be taken at face value.

Mary I was about to write my own review, but what you wrote perfectly expresses my sentiments as well. Thank you for an excellent review.

Hannah Webster Thanks for helping me a bit with this one - I confess I started to get a bit frustrated and confused towards the end of this novel, and you've made me realise why. Fascinating.

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