Seth Hahne's Reviews > An Artist of the Floating World

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
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Nov 30, 09

Read in November, 2009

This is, so far, my second-favourite Ishiguro book. Even if it wasn't, as advertised, a novel.

An Artist of the Floating World is the fifth of Kazuo Ishiguro's works I've read. I've been gradually working my way through since last year. I only have A Pale View of the Hills and Remains of the Day Left. I'm saving Remains of the Day for last—as it's the one that bought him all the acclaim. I'm almost certain to be disappointed, I guess. I'd almost have to be.

But that's neither here nor there because An Artist of the Floating World was a fantastic little read. Ishiguro continues what would seem to be his one trend and style: presenting a story through the perspective of an obviously unreliable narrator (so that one never thinks to wonder about that aspect of things) and one whose voice doesn't always ring true. Evey narrator I've encountered thus far in one of his books relates events in an almost dispassionate manner—such that even when excited, the teller can't help but be overwhelmed by their own natural banality. It's a rather charming storytelling conceit. In it's own way.

I noted earlier that the book was not, in fact, a novel. Even if it appears to be one and even if everything else says that it is such a work. Instead An Artist of the Floating World functions much more like a lengthy short story. Instead of there being a definitive vector for plot and climax and denouement, the book functions as one of those character-study/slice-of-life kind of vignettes that make up so much of Alice Munro's territory. The protagonist doesn't complete very much of an arc, the central conflict (if there even is a central conflict) is resolved off-page, and Masuji Ono spends as much time relating the distant past as he does the recent past.

An Artist of the Floating World is less even a story than it is an evaluation of a character, a judgment of a history.

Masuji Ono was a great—or at least vaguely famous—artist, who made his reputation when he rejected the traditional extrapolations of his previous masters and helped spearhead the propaganda-in-the-arts movement that forged the level of nationalistic furor necessary for Japan's (in hindsight) foolhardy attempts at Chinese invasion and American provocation. Now, with the War having crept a couple years into mist of history, he finds himself (as was the case with many of the nation's heroes of the pre-war era) to be persona non grata, having a reputation tarnished by a) the fact that Japan (his Japan!) had failed in their goal and b) his countrymen's desire to please the Western powers and make an overt show of embracing democracy.

He has no place in the New Japan and has retired.

His retirement makes clear that he realizes his position, but his narration confuses the issue, pointing to a man who refuses to take the prevailing attitude as seriously as the New Japanese might wish him to do. He is almost constantly representing things in a far more rosy frame than one might expect. The question of his ability to understand his new world and live in such a place pervades the entire narrative. Through his nearly endless digressions into the past and to conversations that he half remembers or half forgets, one finds the meat of this Ishiguro's purpose here. It's a complexly structured and delicate work and I can only imagine it would suffer under the weight of expectation.

So I suppose it's good that this came out three years before the book that apparently ruined the rest of his work for a great many of his readers.
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message 1: by Denise (new)

Denise My favorite is A Pale view of Hills. The way the author can intertwine more than one story is truly masterful.


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