Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review : An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Original review posted on Goodreads:- Feb 16, 2013)

If you've already read The Remains of the Day  chances are your enjoyment of An Artist of the Floating World will be greatly curtailed. And that is the sheer tragedy of this book.

Replace Stevens with Ono san. Replace a financially unstable England with post-war Japan and insert Ishiguro's penchant for allegory. And TADA, you have An Artist of the Floating World.
It had potential to be a very emotionally charged commentary of a nation re-building itself from its charred (atomic-bombed) rubble and reflecting on the flawed ideologies of its notorious past.
But instead it felt like a curious combination of The Remains of the Day and A Pale view of Hills.

If in TRotD, Stevens laments living a life devoted to serving a Nazi-sympathizing, anti-Semite Lord with unquestioning loyalty, in here, Ono san experiences feelings of profound guilt for having created paintings supporting the war and Imperial jingoism. We see Ono repeatedly trying to convince himself that his ideals were not at fault and he only did what his own conscience permitted him to, at the time.
But at the fag end of the narrative, Ono comes to terms with his 'mistakes' and even ends up offering an unsolicited apology to his daughter's father in law at her miai (marriage interview in Japanese).

Translation:- Ishiguro virtually makes Japan get down on its knees and apologize to the world for all the crimes against humanity it committed during the War. The floating world of the pleasure district that Ono san uses as a theme for his paintings is actually a symbol for a floating, unstable Japan about to turn over a new leaf.

I can't exactly put my finger on what I did not find appealing in this book. Maybe it's the matter-of-fact tone of Ono's voice in this narrative which will tend to annoy the reader at some point. Maybe it's the glaring similarities with TRotD. Or maybe it's the Booker-nominated writer Tan Twan Eng saying how he reads this book at least once every year which caused me to have really high expectations.

I thought a book had to create an incredibly strong impact for it to be Eng's all-time-favorite. But I guess as a native of Malaysia, he must have strong sentiments associated with any book which talks about Japan's shameful past as colonial master of most of south-east Asia.

So my advice to the uninitiated will be : Read Ishiguro's works in order or at least read this one before reading The Remains of the Day.

3 underwhelmed stars out of 5.


  1. I have heard this before: that it's pretty much a combo of many of his other books. I did read this one before I read The Remains of the Day. It was my first book by him and I loved it. I have grown to like everything I read by Ishiguro, but I am apprehensive of reading The Remains of the Day, for fear it's going to seem like everything else. Does still sound interesting, though!

    1. Hi Priya! Thank you so much for the comment. If you like Ishiguro then you must read The Remains of the Day. It is the best of his oeuvre in my opinion...and will probably make you cry.


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