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A Pale View of Hills
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Book Club > 5/18 A Pale View Of Hills (Spoiler Thread)

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Carol (carolfromnc) | 1322 comments This is the place to discuss the whole book, including any and all spoilers. No need for spoiler tags.

So ... who thinks Sachiko is Etsuko, and Keiko is Mariko ? Is Etsuko the child murderer (the rope...)? Other explanations? What are the problems with each solution?

I haven’t arrived at any interpretation that satisfied me. Have at it.


message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Josh | 271 comments I have a few ideas... but actually I've been shaking my head trying to figure out some other things.

1. What is the purpose of the grandfather's subplot of fighting with the former pupil?? What is the purpose of taking the most likable character and turning him into a pawn of the secret police??

2. How strong should a feminist reading be? There appear to be suggestions of entrapped females, but that is nearly eclipsed by the awful mothering...

3. What is Mari's deal. At times cute and precocious animal lover, but more often severely traumatized near comatose.

To me, the idea that these are mostly the same people means there isn't a good one in the lot, except the Japanese husband, who needs to a bit more abusive than demanding of tea to explain this whole escape...

I liked the writing, but these thoughts are making me think it's a missed attempt of an amateurish hand, given more weight when judges with hindsight of later genius...


message 3: by Agnetta (last edited May 14, 2018 05:51AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Agnetta | 300 comments Carol wrote: "This is the place to discuss the whole book, including any and all spoilers. No need for spoiler tags.

So ... who thinks Sachiko is Etsuko, and Keiko is Mariko ? Is Etsuko the child murderer (the..."


so : my solution :D. I really am impatient to share !!!

I think they are not the same people, but really different people, and by chance Etsuko came to a similar situation Sachiko lived and then made a similar decision : leave and drag the child behind her.

Etsuko, when not yet a mother, must have judged severely Sachiko's actions, not being a good mother to Mariko. She probably was thinking : it is better for Sachiko to stay with the uncle, that is what a good mother would do, I would.

Then in retrospect, she realizes she herself made a choice that was good for her, but not for her daughter, and now Keiko committed suicide. So while commemorating the actions of Sachiko, she is actually trying to face her own guilt. She only remembers Sachiko's story in the light of her own guilt.

Then the memories are not 100% reliable : she mixes with dreamy memories, that may not have happened.

Probably, there was no rope... it is just her subconsciousness, she feels guilty about Keiko's suicide, she sees herself as a person who hurts children (her own child driven to suicide) and they should be afraid of her. Hence the rope -scenes with Mariko being frightened.

When she switches in her last conversation with Mariko and says "We good go back" , she mixes up a conversation with Keiko she had at a later date, in similar situation. She knows she was lying to Keiko, coming back was no option. Again her guilt showing thru the memory.

The child murderer... that's a hard one. I think it is only to draw a further parallel : Mariko was left out alone in danger of being murdered. (did this happen ? was she murdered in the end? actually i do not think so... ). It emphasizes how reckless Sachiko was exposing her daughter to death.
But then, Etsuko, the future "good" mother, who apparently was so concerned about Mariko, brougth Keiko into a situation where she actually died.

Some people online speculate Etsuko is the child murderer. Can't find that in the novel though.

So for me this book is about how people can not judge until placed in the same situation + about how one may not be able to really face his own faults, and may (need to) see them thru the faults of other.


Agnetta | 300 comments Josh wrote: "
1. What is the purpose of the grandfather's subplot of fighting with the former pupil?? "


I wondered about that one too. For me it is a prequel of what will unfold at the end : nothing is as it looks like, and one should not judge hastily !

The grandfather seemed so nice, so likable, so dignified. But he was also swept away at a certain time of his live, blindly adhering to certain standards/convictions which in retrospect were not so ethical ( the voice of the pupil showing this now). So he was not so perfect - one needs to see all circumstances of his past actions !

in parallel :
Etsuko seemed so reliable, so concerned, so motherly. but then she took Keiko knowing she would be miserable in the new country. (the suicide shows)

Both falls of the masks were a shock actually :D


Jeshika Paperdoll (jeshikapaperdoll) | 214 comments I tend to read books at face value and I'm not great at analysing them, so I'm here to see what other people have come up with because I was just left with "???"

Agnetta, I like your theory. From my reading experience I don't think I could accept Etsuko being Sachiko or Keiko being Mariko either so this one fits well for me. :)


Alan Agnetta, your point about memory is a good one - the number of times Etsuko says her memory is vague, or she cannot be sure... I lost count - and yet, conversely, there are points where she explicitly says 'I remember exactly...'.

Also, what jumped out at me on the same lines are the occasions she says (for example):
'But such things are long in the past now and I have no wish to ponder them yet again....There is nothing to be gained in going over such matters again.' (p.91 in my edition, Chapter 6)

So....
If we read it that Etsuko is Sachiko, is this some sort of transference - in the way of trying to deal with trauma (or guilt) by 'creating' another person to view it in a more detached way? Or is it some form of PTSD? Is this going over of events a case of memory forcing itself through despite Etsuko trying to suppress it?

I didn't get the vibe that Etsuko was the child-killer, but I am torn between a straightforward literal reading versus the Etsuko-as-Sachiko reading. The former seems a little too easy - the 2 stories are so close that it must be more than just a coincidence?

I'm sure I read somewhere that Ishiguro himself said that he meant people to pick up on the idea that this is the same person - but now I'm not sure if I just made that up!!

I enjoyed the book a lot - but it does very much feel like a first novel and maybe he just overreached himself, got a bit tangled up in what he was trying to do, didn't yet have the skill and style he later developed as a writer, and we are left with an enigma that we just have to accept as exactly that...?


Agnetta | 300 comments Alan wrote: "the 2 stories are so close that it must be more than just a coincidence?"

well, the theory would be that Etsuko remembers only the parts of Sachiko's story that are in sync with her own story/guilt. so in that sense the stories are now so similar because Etsuko , in her memory, selectively retains only similar parts... while surfing the internet in full panic to find some confirmation of my idea last Friday I THINK I found some reference to this in an interiew with Ishiguro... but now i can't find that link anymore !

What i do not like with idea of Sachiko = Etsuko is that Sachiko did also interact with other people: she worked at the noodle shop, came to visit, talked with neighbours, So would Sachiko be the Etsuko 6 years later ? ... it seems a bit far souhgt for a Projection, I think if it were a real projection, there should be more evidence of that in the book, more clarity that only Etsuko could be Sachiko. But maybe it was indeed his purpose and it did not came over clearly, as you say, an over-reach of a novel author ? what creates doubt for me is : what about the cable cars ? Did Keiko go ? just like Mariko ? Or is this thé clue that Keiko is Mariko? Still, Keiko lived serveral years there wiht her real father, they could have gone on a family trip before the mysterious "divorce" ...

looking forward to more ideas from the other readers !!


message 8: by J (last edited May 14, 2018 09:58AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

J | 67 comments Carol wrote: "So ... who thinks Sachiko is Etsuko, and Keiko is Mariko ? "

I felt that way when I first read the novel. I saw the parallels, and felt Etsuko might have been repressing certain memories of her earlier life in Japan. Through the Sachiko story, she might have been trying to come to terms with things she couldn't previously. But it's been a long time, and things get hazy, so the memories may not always be linear.

As for Etsuko being the child murderer, I don't remember getting that feeling, but I'll have to read it again.


message 9: by Agnetta (last edited May 15, 2018 01:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Agnetta | 300 comments ok guys, if you like the author's explanation (unless you prefer not to know and keep analyzing yourself - in that case just do not go there !) : in this blog I found citations from Conversations with Kazuo Ishiguro, Edited by Brian W. Shaffer & Cynthia F. Wong:

http://thefrenchexit.blogspot.de/2011...

you have to scroll to the comments entries, by Travis.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 1322 comments Agnetta wrote: "ok guys, if you like the author's explanation (unless you prefer not to know and keep analyzing yourself - in that case just do not go there !) : in this blog I found citations from Conversations w..."

This was the blog I read which I thought teed up the most common interpretations nicely. I’m not sure Ishiguro’s many vague explanations help, but he does at least reject the 1:1 match.


message 11: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan I'm wondering what others made of the (for want of a better word) ghost story elements of the book? Did others find them a distraction or helpful in generating the whole atmosphere of unease and ambiguity?

I'm thinking mainly of:
- the woman Mariko says she keeps seeing - that Sachiko later explains as the woman in Tokyo during the war who they saw drown her baby and she says later killed herself. Is this a ghost? Or just a child's imagination?
- the cottage where Sachiko and Mariko live, dark and across empty wasteland, no electricity, lit only by a single lantern...
- the 'other side of the river', the bridge, the woods - all very metaphorical!!
- Etsuko's dreams, especially of the girl on the swing - and the 'twist' at the end of Part One: 'but it's not a swing she's on'...
- Keiko's room in the house in England where Etsuko sometimes imagines she hears noises. Of course the room is described as 'at the far end of the hallway.'
- the child murders, the rope tangled in Etsuko's feet, Keiko's suicide by hanging
- the mysterious woman on the tram staring at Mariko - or was it just an innocent look?

I wonder if Ishiguro was brought up on traditional Japanese 'kaidan' ghost stories from his parents. There feels a lot of old-fashioned slow-moving creepiness, isolation, exile, the role of the outsider, etc


message 12: by Agnetta (last edited May 15, 2018 07:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Agnetta | 300 comments Alan wrote: "I'm wondering what others made of the (for want of a better word) ghost story elements of the book? Did others find them a distraction or helpful in generating the whole atmosphere of unease and am..."
after you summed this all up , the book seems even more fantastic.... indeed, it becomes all a rather creepy magical. And the "noises" Etsuko hears in her house... that then are explained by Niki being up, or actually the noise came not from Keiko's room but from the kitchen....


Dimitra | 3 comments Hello everyone, this is the first time I read a book with you. I really enjoy the discussion, as I enjoyed the book.
The way I see it, this is a story about old traumas and how to deal with them. All these past stories (Sachiko and Mariko, Keiko, her husband and his family, the life in Japan after the war) are narrated with some sadness, instead of nostalgia, and they are left unfinished. We never get to know exactly what happened - which is something I personally liked in the book. It is like the heroine is trying to put them to rest, but she can't really do it.


Agnetta | 300 comments Dimitra wrote: "Hello everyone, this is the first time I read a book with you. I really enjoy the discussion, as I enjoyed the book.
The way I see it, this is a story about old traumas and how to deal with them. A..."


Thanks Dimitra, that it an interesting take on the story.

It seems you did not like it too much, if you gave 3 stars ? Would you like to share what are the elements that make it only a 3 for you ?


Dimitra | 3 comments Agnetta wrote: "Dimitra wrote: "Hello everyone, this is the first time I read a book with you. I really enjoy the discussion, as I enjoyed the book.
The way I see it, this is a story about old traumas and how to d..."


Though I liked the approach and the idea of the gaps, at some points I think it went too far. For example the story of the child murderer or that of the grandfather. There was too much emphasis placed in these, which I think was unnecessary and misleading.
Also, the heroine narrates the past but gives very little clues about her own thoughts and feelings. She seemed to me a little empty.


Christian (comeauch) | 230 comments Just finished and wow! I loved his writing style... All characters feel so real!

I just read through all your comments (btw, thanks for making this spoiler thread. Now I can better see why!) What a dramatic conclusion... I'll probably keep thinking about it, but right now, I'm dismissing the Etsuko = Sachiko conclusion. Why change England for America? My simplest explanation is that when Etsuko goes out with her lantern, she travels through the stories and arrives at a similar occurence with her own child a few years later. It says "the little girl" instead of Mariko too. Even on the first reading, I thought it was odd.

I also have another interpretation in mind, which I really like: Etsuko and Sachiko are different people. Sachiko was clearly delusional about leaving the country for fairyland America, killed the kittens since they were an hindrance and didn't seem to care much about her daughter Mariko. Etsuko has seen all of this and we know how concerned she is with Mariko's welfare. So ultimately, she took Mariko away with her (later renaming her Keiko). She sometimes imagine how different things would have been if she hadn't (Sachiko with the rope). At the end, she also says to Niki: "Your father was rather idealistic at times, in those days, you see, he really believed we could give her a happy life over here." and then "But you see, Niki, I knew all along. I knew all along she wouldn’t be happy over here. But I decided to bring her just the same." I first assumed they meant choosing between living with mom or dad, but maybe it's about taking her away from Sachiko? They mention that Etsuko's husband is not her dad, but maybe she's not her mom either? That also explains the day trip to the hills: Mariko would become Keiko. Plus, the kittens: Mariko really want them to be adopted. Maybe there's a parallel there? The more I'm thinking about it, the more sense it makes...


Agnetta | 300 comments But Niki s father is the englishman, is he not? With your theory the pregnancy needs to end in a miscarriage. A bit difficult yo imagine this was left out....interesting idea but ishiguru might have given a few more clues , would have bien nice....


Christian (comeauch) | 230 comments Agnetta wrote: "But Niki s father is the englishman, is he not? With your theory the pregnancy needs to end in a miscarriage. A bit difficult yo imagine this was left out....interesting idea but ishiguru might hav..."

Shoot! I thought it wasn't explicitly said he was English... then I looked at the first page. Well that's UNLESS... Jiro.... is English!
Ok, I'll have to think of something else hahaha

Well actually, at first I thought something a bit different: maybe the old Etsuko is the woman from across the river. Reliving the events in her mind and trying to save Mariko this time around. It's a bit too complex a theory though. It's annoying that he left us hanging like that really, especially with the possibility that Etsuko might even be the murderer... how are we supposed to get closure from that story now? I really don't think that's much of a possibility though, if he really had wanted to leave us in shock, he would have written it explicitly? But if it's just a puzzle, why involve murder?

It's a shame because the rest is so great. Ok, the enigma is fun too, but throwing us down a cliff was not necessary for my enjoyment of the story.


Dioni (Bookie Mee) (dioni) | 157 comments Just finished! This thread surprised me a bit. I was reading the book in a more straightforward manner, much in the way of Agnetta's take that the two women are different people, but came to a similar situation at different times. Etsuko ended up making similar mistakes that she probably was more judgemental of before she got to the same point.

I am a bit frustrated at the hanging thread of the actual reason Etsuko ended up leaving Japan in the end. It feels like a huge hole of the story that we're missing.

The child murderer element was not profound enough for me to think too much into it. I thought it was just a background, giving a sense of foreboding, an air of Japan as a 'dangerous' place (with the two women running away from it).

And taking these questions from Josh:
>What is the purpose of the grandfather's subplot of fighting with the former pupil?? What is the purpose of taking the most likable character and turning him into a pawn of the secret police??

I saw Ogata-san as someone who thinks he has done his best his entire life not realising (or only realising at the end) that it was not for a greater good.

I think it would be very clear for people who have read The Remains of the Day that Ishiguro took a thread from this and spun a whole book out of this idea. It is quite interesting to see the earliest conception of it!


message 20: by Dioni (Bookie Mee) (last edited May 26, 2018 10:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dioni (Bookie Mee) (dioni) | 157 comments I just went through this briefly http://thefrenchexit.blogspot.co.uk/2...
and it seems too obsessed about the murderer theory. I can't take the murderer theory seriously - it just seems to make the book a bit "cheap", like some second rate ghost story.

But it made me think that the rope is used by Ishiguro as a symbol of Etsuko's guilt. So every time the rope comes up in the scene, she's steeped in guilt. Like the little girl "swinging" in the dreams. And the last scene at the bridge with Mariko, with rope around Etsuko's ankle. My interpretation is Etsuko had similar conversation with her own child about leaving Japan, that's why she slipped into "if you don't like it we can always come back" (knowing it's not true). And the rope symbolises her guilt, because she'd "kill" the child by bringing her to England, as she ended up committing suicide.

Actually I'm pretty happy with my last interpretation there :D. Wow who knew this book would spin off all these questions and theories? In that sense, it's quite masterful isn't it? It's not a perfect book, for me, but it's a great book for book club!


Dioni (Bookie Mee) (dioni) | 157 comments Alan wrote: "I'm wondering what others made of the (for want of a better word) ghost story elements of the book? Did others find them a distraction or helpful in generating the whole atmosphere of unease and am..."

I really like your summary of the "creepy" elements Alan.

The 'other side of the river' and the bridge seemed like a very obvious metaphor while I was reading it, but I couldn't quite pinpoint what it was a metaphor of.
But looking back now, knowing that the book is a lot about death or revolves around the eventual death of Keiko, I wonder whether the other side of the river is 'death'. So every time they look for Mariko to the other side of the river, it was as if it plays with the possibility that Mariko has died or 'crossed over to the other side'. Sort of emphasising the fragility of a young life, or a child's life (no matter what age they are).


Carol (carolfromnc) | 1322 comments Dioni (Bookie Mee) wrote: "I just went through this briefly http://thefrenchexit.blogspot.co.uk/2...
and it seems too obsessed about the murderer theory. I can't take the murde..."


Dioni, I like that explanation for the rope and the child murderer references.

I loved that blog (and the comments left by others at the end) because it is a thoughtful conversation starter, not because it provides the correct interpretation, per se. Most other reviews are so worried about spoilers that they don't engage on the topic of WTF is going on with Etsuko, Mariko and Keiko.

I also really felt the gap you identified - the part of Etsuko's life where she leaves Japan, marries husband 2, has two kids ... It's as if we have parts 2 and 4 of a 4-part story.

The other gap that stays with me is, why did Etsuko and Sachiko become "friends" in the first place? They don't appear to have anything at all in common other than proximity. Someone said upthread that Sachiko is very Western. I'm willing to own that. She's rude, self-centered .... odd, and not in a fascinating way; in a stay the heck away from this person because she's erratic and potentially deeply troubled. Etsuko in that part of the story is shy, quiet, self-effacing and with very different values than Sachiko. She is pregnant but doesn't yet have any kids so it didn't make sense to me that she would be so concerned about Mariko that she'd get involved in the first place with Sachiko. This was the cornerstone of the novel that bothered me - - there was little to no basis for Sachiko and Etsuko to have had so many dealings and conversations with one another. I agree that they were distinct people and that Ishiguro's focus on the unreliability of memory and Etsuko's indirect approach to these troubling memories makes it easier for her to recall, and retell to her Niki, Sachiko's sins and misjudgments than her own.

I also liked that Ishiguro introduced the element of dreams and spirits in a way that reminded me of Miyabe's Apparitions: Ghost of Old Edo, not that there aren't plenty of other Japanese stories that include dreams and spirits or ghosts.

This has been a great thread and discussion, btw.


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