An Artist of the Floating World

by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World CoverAn Artist of the Floating World very much reminds me of A Pale View of Hills, in that the story involves an elder looking back on their life, often unreliably. The unreliable narrator this time around is Masuji Ono, an artist who was celebrated and respected before and during the Second World War in Japan. He putters around a few years after the war, considering his family life, his education, and some questionable things he was involved with during the war effort. Ono differs from A Pale View of Hills’ Etsuko in two distinct ways. Firstly, his recollections come almost absent-mindedly, with the present triggering a memory, and Ono going off on a tangent, before remembering himself and getting back to the matter at hand. This is quite intriguing, especially since, much like the narrator, I would find myself forgetting what we were originally talking about until Ono jogs both of our memories. It seems like such a technique would have the potential of getting in the way of the story, but the pacing and flow were both unhindered. The second major difference between our two narrators is that Ono proves to be a much more reliable unreliable narrator, in that, while he still seems to remember things that never happened, he’s surprisingly honest about himself and his past, not through direct expression, but because of the nature of these misconceptions.

Ishiguro kept me interested throughout An Artist of the Floating World, mainly through the leisurely pace we’re given information about Ono. Early on, it becomes apparent that he had a dark past, but the author is slow and stingy with details, so it takes a great deal of time to begin to understand what he did and how he got there, but he gives you just enough often enough to let you jump to all kinds of conclusions along the way. The important part of this, however, is that we’re never given so much time to consider our last morsel of information that we lose interest, which was a chief failing of A Pale View of Hills. So, Ishiguro’s storytelling appears to have improved dramatically with this one, but there wasn’t really anything deeply emotional or unsettling to make this book feel truly powerful.