Etsuko, now an old Japanese woman, has lived half her life in Japan and the other half in England. Her life in both places were filled with tragedy- she lived through the bombing of Nagasaki and lost everything, and years later her eldest daughter Keiko hanged herself alone in her flat in Manchester. When her youngest daughter comes for a visit, she starts thinking about an old friend she used know, Sachiko, and how her life used to be in post-war Japan.
“A Pale View Of Hills” had a style that was familiar to me from “Never Let Me Go” – the feeling of dread starts from the first few pages and you can’t help but read on to find out what is wrong with it all. You are put off by Sachiko’s obviously terrible parenting, and you fear that something will happen to her daughter Mariko because of all the neglect. And it is strange how Mariko seems to be almost afraid of Etsuko.
We also get to see other aspects of Etsuko’s life such as her relationship with her husband who she doesn’t really seem to be connecting with emotionally, and her father-in-law Ogata-San who despite seeming to care a lot for Etsuko, doesn’t really think she has a bigger role to fulfill than be a good, submissive wife for his son. We see the shifting of ideas, the way that households are changing in Japan after the war and the views of both the older and the younger generations.
Some spoilers may be ahead… As you are reaching the end of the book, you feel like you were cheated by Ishiguro. He had all these storylines, the fates of Sachiko and Mariko, the suicide of Keiko, how Etsuko came to leave her first husband to settle in England- and he was going to explain none of it. But then he did, and in just a single page…
It takes a while to set in. You knew that Etsuko was an unreliable narrator all along. She warned you, she said that her memories may not be very exact. And she knew all along that she wasn’t being very honest with you, because she spent that day on the hills with Keiko, not Mariko, and you had no idea until the last ten pages. And now you will sit and think about it for days. And there it is again, that familiar feeling you get from Ishiguro novels, of guilt over time lost. And you will never really know how much of Sachiko was Etsuko all along. Maybe the Etsuko she remembers in the past is how she feels she should have acted. Maybe if she had been that Etsuko, Keiko wouldn’t have killed herself.
I’m almost sad that I’ve finished A Pale View Of Hills. Now there is one less Ishiguro book I can read for the first time.