An Artist of the Floating World. By Kazuo Ishiguro.

This, as its title suggests, is a tour de force of unreliable narration, set in post-second world war Japan, during the American occupation. The novel opens with a subdued and evocative sentenze whose meaning will resonate throughout the story:: “If on a sunny day you climb the steep path leading up from the little wooden bridge still referred to around here as ‘the Bridge of Hesitation’, you will not have to walk far before the roof of my house becomes visible between the tops of two gingko trees.”

The novel is narrated by a man who, besides being an artist, is also a father, a grandfather, and a widower. It tells, with a strong voice, much about the “pleasure era” of Japanese society, elaborating on the life of a successful and devoted young artist in a decadent era.

Masuji Ono, a respected artist in the 1930s and during the war, but now retired, is garrulously recalling the past, from a highly subjective point of view.

Ishiguro’s fiction has certainly mined the complexities involved in the unreliable, first-person narrator.

Among the themes explored in this novel are arranged marriage, the changing roles of women, and the declining status of “elders” in Japanese society since 1945.We learn how attitudes toward Japanese art and society became less tolerant of such extravagance, and what it was like to live with the guilt of such pleasure. The pace is slow and lingers over details, reflecting the central theme. Ishiguro’s writing is spare, and really nothing much happens in the book at all.

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