Review by Alex Kosoris
Some authors tie everything up in a neat little package, leading the reader along a clear path through the narrative in their stories. Ishiguro is not one of those authors, or, at least, A Pale View of Hills is definitely not one of those stories. No, it comes across that way at times, but the author occasionally presents something that seems discordant with the story up to that point, and even, by the end, makes you question everything you read.
The story follows Etsuko, an elderly Japanese woman living in England, as she reminisces about her time in Nagasaki after World War II, before she emigrated. We learn about the intense changes affecting the country at the time, and how different people coped, including her detached, workaholic husband, her old-fashioned father-in-law, her neglectful neighbour, and her neighbour’s disturbed child. The most interesting moments crop up when Ishiguro makes it clear that our narrator isn’t remembering things necessarily the way they happened. As well, the story gets quite unsettling. I know I often prattle on about pacing, but I really need to make special mention of it here, as it’s one of the book’s triumphs and possibly its chief failing. The author sets the story up to be a muted, reflective affair, so the suspense comes almost without warning, to great effect, and then it disappears. Had the tension escalated or, at least, lingered, I think I’d have a greater appreciation for the book.
That being said, A Pale View of Hills is still a wonderfully crafted work that stuck with me long after I finished it. (To be fair, I still am not sure I fully understand it.) Because the author is hugely confident and because the story is a great measure of subtlety, it honestly amazes me that this is a first novel.