`An Artist of the Floating World' is basically the Japanese version of Ishiguro's Booker winning novel `The Remains of the Day'. As in The Remains of the Day the narrator is an unreliable witness with the shadow of pre-war culpability looming over his head. And as with The Remains of the Day the quiet individual has been drawn into the political events which transformed the world. Now retired, Masuki Ono passes his days in quiet seclusion, awaiting visits from his two daughters. He is a widower living alone, his wife and son having been killed during the war. But now it is 1948 and Japan is changing, collective guilt has seized the Japanese psyche, officials in the old regime are committing suicide and a new generation is emerging.
But as Ono works to finalise the marriage of his youngest daughter the issue of his pre-war allegiances arise and he is forced to come to terms with his responsibility for the militarist direction the 1930's took.
The question arises: what is the role of an artist in the wider political arena? Should the artist live solely for the reproduction of beauty, existing solely in a floating world divorced from society at large? Or should he become a conduit for change, a leader of public opinion? In the modern world where every rock star/artist/writer is expected to produce politically conscious work this is a valid and fascinating question.
An Artist of the Floating World produces a beautiful mirage, something like a Monet painting, with ideas and flawed characters flowing together in a silent, uneventful and almost heartbreaking novel. If you liked Remains of the Day then you will love this. It is absolutely fascinating to see the cultural comparisons between two such reserved societies on the verge of change. Kazuo Ishiguro is a rare gem of a writer and his earliest work is the most sparse of his career, he is a master of understatement, so I shall take a leaf out of his book and say nothing more. I enjoyed this book, you may too.