Reading Assignment: pages 1-96 of Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World
I must admit, this is the first time I have ever encountered Kazuo Ishiguro’s work during my career as a student. However, my colleagues at my job are very familiar with his writings and have expressed both great admiration for them and great excitement that I have been assigned his text.
After reading this first section, I can definitely understand where their love for Ishiguro’s novels has come from because I have been enthralled with this text since the opening paragraph.
“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. Even if it did not occupy such a commanding position on the hill, the house would still stand out from all others nearby, so that as you come up on the path, you may find yourself wondering what sort of wealthy man owns it” (Ishiguro 7).
The imagery within this opening paragraph immediately drew me in and took hold of my imagination. While the details are sparse in this moment as to what the home actually looks like, I can still picture a stately, expansive home set upon a mountain. Perhaps there is a slight mist that refracts the sunlight ever so gently around it, only adding to the mystery and beauty surrounding the home and its inhabitants.
But, as our narrator expresses frequently throughout this section, I must admit that I digress.
Another aspect of this opening paragraph that immediately drew me in and captured my attention was the overall tone of the narrator. He addresses the reader as “you,” giving the sections (like this one) where he does so a very conversation-like tone. Combined with his use of imagery and descriptive language, it is almost as if he and the reader are sitting at a table at Mrs. Kawakami’s, sharing drinks or perhaps tea as he is telling us all about his home and life.
By this point, you, my dear reader, are probably wondering: “Megan, what does this have to do with the idea/concept of ‘floating?’ After all, isn’t that what this course is about?”. Well, my friend, that is a very good question.
In terms of narrative style and schematics, Ono (the narrator) floats between present day and memories from throughout his life, both post- and pre-World War II. He moves between these memories and present day events with ease, and while he may sometimes digress into a tangent, he always returns to the topic at hand. The British Council Literature has this to say about Ono’s (and other characters of Ishiguro’s fiction) movement between memory and present day:
“Ishiguro’s novels are preoccupied by memories, their potential to digress and distort, to forget and to silence, and above all to haunt. The protagonist of his fiction seek to overcome loss (the personal loss of family members and lovers; losses resulting from war) by making sense of the past through acts of remembrance” (British Council).
These aspects of loss can be found throughout the entirety of this section of the novel:
- There are losses to his property and home due to bombings during the war. The memories associated with this loss are of how he came about purchasing the home from a prestigious family at a low price.
- He experiences loss in the sense of losing a potential son-in-law/husband for his younger daughter. There are many questions surrounding the potential husband’s withdrawal from the marriage process, and there are many memories associated with this loss (Ono running into the man leaving a suspicious establishment is one example).
- Ono experiences an ultimate loss by losing his son to the war, the memory associated with this being his son’s funeral and his son-in-law’s angry reaction to the service.
- Finally (and I would argue most importantly), Ono loses much of his old, pre-War world. One example of this is the establishment he helped to expand into Migi-Hidari that is ultimately demolished after it is damaged during the bombings (there are numerous memories related to this loss, such as the memories associated with his career and The Tortise, his assistance with the expansion, and his patronage at Mrs. Kawakami’s).
I predict that we will begin to see more of these post-War losses throughout the rest of the story, particularly in relation to his culture and traditions. We have already begun to see how America’s occupation in Japan has started to change the country, hitting particularly close to home with Ichiro’s obsession with cowboys, and I have a feeling that it will become more prevalent. It will be interesting to see how Ono floats between his pre-war world and the evolving post-World War II Japan (I wonder if he will begin painting again to deal with this change, or if there’s something with his “tidied away” paintings that illustrate this move).
Next week we’ll be finishing An Artist of the Floating World, so I guess we’ll find out then.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. An Artist of the Floating World. Vintage Books, 1989, New York.
“Kazuo Ishiguro.” British Council Literature, 2 Feb.2017. https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/kazuo-ishiguro