Review: ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

I picked this book up and began reading it on a complete whim. The 30th Anniversary Edition caught my eye while I was going about my day. I’ve tried to read Ishiguro before, making it a third of the way into Never Let Me Go, an experience which mostly registered confusion. At the time, Ishiguro was too far from anything I’d read before for me to be able to comprehend it – because he does not tell you everything. I’ve often thought about picking Never Let Me Go again, and have skimmed the short stories in Nocturnes, but glancing at the new introduction to this edition, I decided this would be a good place to have a fresh start with Ishiguro’s work. I’m so glad I did, because I really enjoyed it.

an artist of the floating world

The story follows retired artist Masuji Ono as Japan rebuilds from World War II in 1948. Arrangements for his daughter’s marriage, his elder daughter’s visits with his grandson, and fond, quiet recollection of the past fill his days as he tends his garden. The story draws connections between his life now and his actions in the past, as our impression of the protagonist slowly changes.

This book is excellently written, with a very gentle meandering pace. I was fascinated by Ishiguro’s discussion in the introduction for the anniversary edition of his influences in writing his second novel. In particular the influence of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in terms of structure of events and scenes – not by chronology but by ‘tangential thought associations, or the vagaries of memory’ – drew me to it. Reading this introduction going into An Artist made me a little more aware of the use of the strategy, which works fantastically to create a rich and compelling story, and a character who by the end of the book, I felt I knew. By being so closely tuned to his patterns of thought, which moments within his life we connect to others, the portrait we have of Masuji Ono is as well drawn as that we might have of someone real.

There are many more things I could say about this slow-burner of a book, but since so much of my enjoyment came from picking it up with no expectations of the story itself, I don’t want to encumber any other readers with them. I absolutely recommend this for a masterful piece of storytelling, and a brilliant example of the unreliable narrator.


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