Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Unreliable memoirs
When I first read an Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go (2005), it was back in the days before I knew about book blogs. I wasn't in a reading group or book club, but, compelled to tell almost everyone I knew about this great discovery so we could discuss it, I fired off a round of emails urging all my reading friends to try it.
No other novel has excited me so much.
This one, published in 2000, is similarly masterful in language, atmosphere and creepiness, and does not disappoint, despite its being not quite the sensation of Never Let Me Go.
Set in the 1920s and '30s, it is the story of a private detective, Christopher Banks, who, after some successful cases in England, returns to Shanghai, where he spent his childhood, to try to find out what had happened to his parents, who disappeared from there in separate incidents when he was 10.
Like the times and cities in which it is set, there is shaky ground everywhere in this uneasy and unsettling tale, told in the first person with shifting tenses and a mix of far and recent memory.
Ishiguro is known for his employment of the unreliable narrative, and you'll find yourself having to distinguish reality from delusion as Christopher reveals himself through this complex and dark series of intertwined recollections and events.
The author's level, controlled tone does not falter from start to finish: the perfect veneer. He effortlessly captures the cool glossiness of middle-class society and Christopher, the epitome of the well-spoken, well-behaved young man about town, seems to fit in neatly.
But there's definitely something nasty in the woodshed.
Themes of childhood, parental influence, relationships and, most significantly, desertion, surface in this weird version of crime fiction.

1 comment:

Meg said...

I am a great fan of Ishiguro but can't agree with you on Never Let Me Go. I really didn't enjoy it (though most people I talked to did enjoy it, which is probably why I can't be in a book group - I'm too much of a grump). I tend to prefer his earlier work. When will we see a new Ishiguro book being released? I thought of you last weekend while reading the papers - Tim Winton, Peter Carey, and Murray Bail are all slated to have books published this year! (Carey and Winton earlier on in the year, maybe February?)