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on 4 November 2017
A very good book , safely delivered . Thank you .
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on 12 January 2018
It was a gift
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on 27 April 2017
Really enjoy his use of English and his subtle characterisations
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on 25 March 2017
When I was a child I remember my mum having a blue and white plate. It was in the style of Chinese willow pattern but made in Japan and depicted a kimono clad figure of indeterminate sex standing on an arched bridge over a softly flowing river, dwarfed by mountain ranges to the left and right.

If the Japanese plate was my mum’s pride and joy, my dad’s was an innovative device: a Casio calculator. We didn’t see it at the time but my parents’ preferences neatly symbolised how Japan had repositioned itself in the world, its metamorphosis from old-world imperial to new-world technological powerhouse.

An Artist in the Floating World, set in Japan between 1948 and 1950, captures the transition. Masuji Ono lives in a traditionally styled house, parts of which remain bomb damaged, whereas his married daughter loves her modern ‘Western design’ apartment; his grandson Ichiro prefers the Lone Ranger and Popeye the Sailorman to Lord Yoshitsune or the Ninja of the Wind; and across the little wooden bridge from his house the old “floating world” pleasure district is rapidly being replaced by modern office blocks.

On a national level, of course, the country is recovering from the Second World War and “the surrender”. And on a personal level, Masuji is recovering from devoting his talent and energy to the Imperial cause. How do you deal with the knowledge that, with all good intentions, the mast you nailed your colours to was shameful?

The story is told in the first person by Masuji, a famous artist, now retired “because Japan lost the war”, his paintings “tidied away for the moment.” Gradually we come to understand that he’d turned his back on painting “pleasure district women” in favour of pictures pushing the sentiment that Japan should “forge an empire...use our strength to expand abroad.”

Which brings us to another question: what is the role of art, or the artist, society? Masuji is that most wonderful of things, an unreliable narrator. He presents himself as “a man of some influence, who used that influence towards a disastrous end” whereas in his elder daughter’s eyes his work “had hardly to do with these larger matters...Father was simply a painter.”

The Artist is set in Japan with wholly Japanese characters and although written in English feels as if it could have been translated from Japanese. In the introduction to my paperback copy Ishiguro talks of “finding an elegant yet slightly stilted register that would suggest the rhythms and stylised formality of the Japanese language running all the time behind the English.” He pulls it off perfectly. No surprise, then, that The Artist won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1986.

It makes we want to see Japan, the old “floating world” Japan (though I accept it has probably gone apart from bits recreated for tourists). And I wish I’d kept that willow patterned plate.

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Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is written in four parts, firstly opening in 1948, and finishing in 1950. Narrated by Masuji Ono, he lives in a bomb damaged house and is retired, being formerly a well known artist creating pieces that were propaganda.

As we read this we see how Ono’s mind wanders from subject to subject as he thinks back on various scenes as well as living in the present, and we soon see that he is an unreliable narrator of sorts. We see that he started off doing pictures in a factory of sorts where pieces were turned out for tourists and foreign markets; he then joined the school of an artist experimenting with Western artistic ideas, and then went his own way.

As arrangements are trying to be forged for the marriage of one of his daughters so he is reminded of the way that Japan is going, with a new start and heavily influenced by America. We get clues here of things that Masuji did, such as informing on others, and the limited view of his opinions. After all this is a man dabbling in politics who couldn’t even tell you anything about what had happened in Russia or other major events in politics on the international scene.

We are offered some light relief here through reading about Ichiro, Masuji’s grandson. We do get a natural feel here whilst reading this, what with our narrator going back and thinking of things from the past, and we do get a feel for his inability to see a new order of things, but at the same time this doesn’t really have an emotional depth that you can grasp hold of, making it a bit more stylish than giving substance, which is disappointing as such, and although this does remind us that the industriousness of the Japanese meant that they were able to rebuild their cities quicker than some other countries this does on the whole rather than give a feel for the period, actually instead give more of a feel of the uncertainties happening in this country at the time this was written. This means that it has a slightly disjointed feel.
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on 26 September 2017
An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro
Pride, guilt, loss, humility and acceptance
The style of writing is mesmerising. The place could be any city in post-war Japan. A retired artist, Masuji Ono, contemplates his former reputation and his fall from grace after the war, for having used his painting talents in the service of patriotic propaganda. He nostalgically muses about his life with fine observations, frequently traversing his ruined city, now rattled by the noises of re-construction, and the advent of American culture. While his values were compromised by rapid changes, and the isolation this can bring, he carefully evaluates the risks he took.
1948, Ono-san introduces the reader to his grand house in the hills, seen from not far beyond a little wooden bridge, the Bridge of Hesitation that used to lead downhill to the pleasure district. His house stands out from others nearby. Ono assures us he is not a wealthy man and explains how he came to acquire the house.
Artists, his father had said, live in squalor and poverty. The son followed his heart. He started out with traditional paintings of ‘the Floating World.’ To gain respect, a painter had to follow the masters of the prevailing taste, which, at the time, were delicate images sourced in the pleasure districts men habituated, where release from formal restrictions could be found, and one could get drunk with dignity. When Ono struck out on his own, painting war propaganda, innately convinced that Japanese culture was about to be engulfed by greedy politicians and business people, his teaching master broke associations with him. The subtle nuances of speech during this confrontation, until correct politeness ripped, are a stunning sketch of Japan’s traditional mode of conduct.
After the war, patriotic activities were judged for having hastened the loss of many lives, and Ono’s spirited propaganda paintings came to be seen as betrayal. Though hardly mentioned, Ono himself lost his wife and a son. It’s however the blemish on his reputation that burdens his conscience, because it complicates the marriage prospects for his second daughter.
He drifts through recollections of past conversations with colleagues and his daughters, torn between pride and humility, saying one thing and meaning another, avoiding any kind of rudeness, while admitting that his recall may be unreliable. These fascinating dialogues are formal, with respect for status and age, until the occasional shocking truth breaks through the politeness. Ono-san’s boisterous grandson, Ichiro, lovingly humoured for his superlative fondness of American comics, like Popeye, could be Ono’s alter-ego for new times.
The reader is addressed as an intimate who knows what happened in his city over time. Ono ends relating his memories in 1950, but of course, all memories are floating on.
The conflicting experiences of change assume a particular poignancy in this formal Japanese setting. Hesitation appears in all of Ishiguro’s novels, and his deep exploration of this theme has a universal relevance.
The introduction to ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ is well worth reading.
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on 1 October 2017
Really, the four stars are for the quality of the writing rather than the story itself, which I found meandering and hard to follow. Ono is the artist of the title, and in the early chapters it's hinted at that he has committed some heinous crime during the war years. But as the story progresses, told with irritating flashback reminiscences it's never really made that clear what exactly it is that Ono has done that has so alienated him from his erstwhile colleagues.

The plot itself centres on his attempts to arrange a marriage for his remaining daughter, the first marriage plan having fallen through for unspecified reasons. Instead of any great reveal, however, the story simply fizzles out. Ulitmately a disappointment, especially read after some of his others, notably Never let me go and The remains of the day, but like I said earlier, four stars for some fine writing. Not the Ishiguru I'd recommend first though.
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on 22 November 2016
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on 13 November 2017
I have just reread this book after many years. It is very worth reading, stays with you and is worth coming back to.
It consists of the reflections of an elderly artist and propagandist who contributed towards the militaristic nationalism that brought Japan into the Second World War who now lives through the aftermath amidst the destruction that war wreaked on the country and the people.
I remembered it as be about denial, but it is subtler than that. The protagonist knows what he has done and feels a deep guilt and responsibility for his actions. What he is doing here is trying to attribute meaning to his life when everything he stood for has been discredited. There are so many wars this could be about - the inter generational conversation about guilt and reproach within society and within the family. A book about a complex inner life and an important book about war.
And a strange reflection of the appeasers guilt in Remains of the Day.
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on 16 March 2017
A beautiful book. A lot like ‘Remains of the Day’, but a beautiful story nonetheless.

In this story Ono, a retired artist looks back on his career and life. In a meandering (typical Ishiguro) narrative, he re-examines the patriotic and propagandist values he has endorsed. And we see how Ono is held by his family and in the wider society for this.

Through his memories, we experience a little of Japanese militarism, the Second World War, and see the rebuilding and reforming of Japan afterwards.

In amidst all the uncertainties, there is a particularly beautiful scene where Ono sits with his teacher. The teacher is reminiscing about what his and his friend’s beliefs and values in life have been:

“The best things, he used to say, are put together of a night and vanish with the morning. What people call the floating world, Ono, was a world that Gisaburo knew how to value.”

He goes on to say: “It’s hard to appreciate the beauty of a world when one doubts its very validity.”

I’ve heard Ishiguro described as preachy and moralistic lately, but who can dislike this kind of reflection when it’s so beautiful?
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