Sunday, 24 December 2017

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro Review

Set in Japan right after WW2, Masuji Ono, a retired artist, looks back on his life and career from when he was a celebrated painter in the pre-war years to the social pariah he now is in the post-war years thanks to his ties to imperialist Japan. Doesn’t sound like much of a story, does it? It isn’t!

I remember really enjoying Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, so much so that I read it twice, so I don’t know why I’ve never read anything else by the guy. I decided to pick up the novel he wrote before Remains, An Artist of the Floating World, and found it to be, unfortunately, a tediously slow-moving load of nothing. 

So, post-war Japan had a real problem with pre-war Japan, namely with the imperialist jingoism that got them wrapped up in what became World War 2, with the survivors actively rejecting all aspects of “traditional” Japan and embracing the occupying Americans’ values and culture instead. Ono isn’t happy with that. Zzz…

I kept hoping for something - anything! - to happen and it never did. There’s a “plot” involving Ono trying to marry off his youngest daughter but having trouble because of his previous associations with imperialist Japan. I couldn’t have cared less! 

I was looking forward to seeing what terrible stuff he’d painted to make him such a notorious figure except Ishiguro completely cops out on that point by never revealing it. All we’re told is that it’s “unpatriotic” and that Ono is a “traitor”. Booo! 

You can see Ishiguro flirting with the idea of the unreliable narrator that he would go on to perfect in Mr Stevens from The Remains of the Day but here the literary device is merely toyed with lightly to little effect. 

I like the title of this book and found out that the “Floating World” was a period of time in Japan’s history noted for its decadence and celebration of transient pleasures, so I guess Ishiguro’s drawing comparisons to that era with either pre or post-war Japan? I don’t know and I’m not really interested enough to think about it. But that vagueness is indicative of the book as a whole. 

It’s a well-written novel and gives you a strong sense of the mood of post-war Japan but it’s not enough for me. An Artist of the Floating World is so completely lacking in anything substantial that it failed to leave any kind of impression. A very disappointing, weak effort - I’d recommend checking out The Remains of the Day for a far better Ishiguro read instead.

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