This review may contain spoilers for Ishiguro’s work, which is best approached without any knowledge of the subject.
I only now realize how much of a disadvantage it was to read The Remains of the Day before the rest of Ishiguro’s work, although I had no choice since I read it for a class. This book feels very much like practice for Remains. Same type of unreliable narrator, an aging man who views his past differently from everyone else and only gradually realizes his mistakes. It isn’t perfect here. The emotional impact isn’t as jarring, even though Ono has wasted his life just as Stevens has. There is that same juxtaposition as the world changes and leaves the old men behind, and in both novels the older man runs into the younger generation, all of whom have a fiercely different view.
Ono is an artist who, it seems, painted propaganda and supported the Japanese war movement, which disastrously ended with the atomic bomb and the loss of World War II. When Japanese nationalism goes out of style, so too does Ono, but he only gradually realizes it, and he still finds himself worthy. This novel is really about his humanity, about the disjointed nature of the human mind and how we ponder things after the fact. Ono is unreliable in that everything is through his eyes. What’s interesting for me is the very stiff, formal nature of Japanese society contrasted so effectively with the personal style of Ono’s storytelling; things like the wedding dinner show this off quite well. I also enjoyed his relations with Ichiro, his attempts to read himself and his son into the little boy — sometimes even ignoring what Ichiro wanted while believing he was doing exactly as his grandson wished. How true to life the relations are. This is one of Ishiguro’s specialties.
Aside from Ono’s place as narrator and subject, the novel is contrasting “the floating world”, old Japan, with the modern Japan and its close ties to America. Was that old world useless? Are men like Ono useless? Is the whole of Japanese history now obsolete? It’s an interesting question, and one that the book doesn’t quite succeed in answering, but leaves open for the reader, and the future, to decide.
I still wish I had read it before Remains. That book is truly his masterpiece. This one, however, was enough for me to continue to seek out the rest of his work. Ishiguro’s style is so distinct and crisp and his technique so refined that reading even a half-way decent novel of his is better than most of the contemporary fiction I have read.