on 25 February 2001
It is a shame that this book, Ishiguro's second, is still less well read than "The Remains Of The Day." This one says more in a much tinier space, and is elegant, elliptical and intelligent beyond the call of duty.
In "An Artist Of The Floating World" (only when you read the book will you know the proper way to place emphasis on the title) Ishiguro tells the story of a Japanese man, Ono, who has something to hide, something to do with the war... To say more would be to give away the plot, and part of the pleasure of the book - as fans of "Remains" or "The Unconsoled" will know - is in seeing how much you can work out for yourself from how little Ishiguro tells you.
Incidentally, the book introduces Ishiguro's brilliant facility for children's speech, with Ono's grandson (going on to perfect this technique with Boris in "The Unconsoled") - quite the best representation I have read of the illogicality, intemperance and, well, childishness of the way children speak.
A flawless gem, a buoyant confection, and a seemingly effortless work of art.
on 30 July 2007
`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.
on 16 March 2006
An Artist of the Floating World (1986) was Kazuo Ishiguro's second novel and his first fully-fledged masterpiece, just as achieved as The Remains of the Day, if a little more opaque and less directly affecting emotionally. It features another of Ishiguro's unreliable narrators, Masuji Ono, who is an elderly man, the artist of the title, with a dark secret. For a time this was my favourite Ishiguro novel - not a controversial choice as it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Whitbread Book of the Year award - and in certain moods it may still be so. Because although all Ishiguro's novels have unifying qualities, they are also all distinct, each appealing in a different way to a different mood. An Artist of the Floating World is spare and short like his debut, but had diversions that also made it a pleasure to read over and above the more literary qualities. He seemed to me, for example, to have developed an exceptional ear for children's voices, in the character of Oji, Ono's grandson, who may or may not be authentic but is charming and pleasing and a distinct character in the way that many young children in novels are not. As with A Pale View of Hills, the key is in the unspoken - while Ono sounds confident and calm most of the time, we know he is stricken and paralysed by some horror connected with the rise of Japanese militarism in the early- to mid-20th century. So Ishiguro is a gift to those who want their fiction to be a dialogue between writer and reader, and not a spoon-fed monologue. It also explains why his books always reward re-reading.
Written in Ishiguro's trademark style, this is an elegant, understated and subtle novel. Narrated in a somewhat rambling and not always reliable way by an elderly artist, this is the story of a society rebuilding itself after the horrors of war. The narrator, a former propagandist for Japan during World War II, must come to terms with his own sense of guilt and try to make sense of the sweeping changes brought in by a new generation.
Ishiguro captures the essence of Japan well, and does a good job of conveying the underlying values and social niceties of a society very different from the modern western one. The narrator is a well constructed character - realistic and far from perfect, and throughout the book the reader comes to sympathise with him to some degree. The other characters, particularly his disapproving daughters and lively grandson, are very believable and I enjoyed reading their interaction.
At times the meandering, rambling nature of the narration can get irritating, but apart from that this is a well constructed, fascinating novel.
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and moved to Britain at the age of five. He was awarded the OBE in 1995 and the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1998. "An Artist of the Floating World" is his second novel, was first published in 1986 and won that year's Whitbread Prize.
"An Artist of the Floating World" opens in October 1948, and is set in post-World War II Japan. The story is told by Masuji Ono, a retired artist and - once - a man of some influence and renown. His wife and son died during the war, though both his daughters survived - one is married, with a son, while Ono is conducting negotiations for his other's marraige. Over the course of the book, Ono looks back over his life and tries to deal with how his home city and the attitudes of the people around him are changing. His own career began on the workshop of Mister Moriyama, before he moved to the studio of Master Takeda - one who favoured painting the 'floating world', as the pleasure districts were known. Finally, Ono worked with Chishu Matsuda in producing artistic propoganda - which led to his position of influence leading up to and during the war. Now, in the post-war years, he notices how his own once great reputation has faltered and how attitudes towards him and his paintings have changed. There are many, for example, from the younger generations who hold him at least partly responsible for Japan's misguided foreign policy.These changes in attitude are being mirrored by the physical changes of the city. With the post-war rebuilding, whole districts are now becoming unrecognizable - Ono's own favourite 'pleasure district' is changing in this way. These changes in attitude and in the city lead Ono to look back over his life and try to come to terms with how he has lived it.
"An Artist of the Floating World" was an excellent book, though a little sad in places. Ono himself seems a somewhat sad at how his home city is changing - partly due to the damage caused by the war, partly in the name of 'progress'. In fact, I couldn't help feeling a little sad at the loss of Ono's 'pleasure district' myself. Ono, on the other hand, doesn't quite change enough : he acknowledges his role to a point, though doesn't show any real sorrow for how things turned out. There were one or two points I'd have liked more information on - particularly his relationship with an ex-pupil called Kuroda. I'm not too surprised, however, that Ono avoided this topic as much as possible, though. For Ono to have dwelt on that topic may have caused him to discover something about himself he didn't like.
on 18 August 2014
Nothing much happens in this slim novel but the tone, the phrasing and the subtle characterisation make the book a delight to read. It's clear that Misuji Ono, first person narrator and artist of the title, is a prototype for the butler Stevens in the more ambitious 'The Remains of the Day', and I have seen this confirmed in an interview with Kazuo Ishiguro in The Paris Review. Both men are precisely spoken, nostalgic observers of their own life, evincing a mixture of pleasure and regret, with undercurrents of self-regard and disappointed entitlement. Both are unreliable narrators, apologists to 'mistakes' in some of their life choices while drawing a veil over certain details and retouching others to better effect. Both are left-behinds in a rapidly changing environment. Despite their faults and peccadillos you can't help but ache with them as they wistfully watch their world recede down the stream of change.
on 19 January 2014
A beautiful little novel, perfectly understated. There's little by way of overt drama here, but Ishiguro masterfully creates a first person protagonist who provides all the necessary conflict within himself. Beyond little glimpses into the past and the character's current family life, all the struggle is internal on behalf of an artist who begins to wonder if he is a traitor to his beliefs and his country.
A rare insight into an artist, too, as most novelists haven't a clue what it's like to be such a person (amazingly, considering that novelists are supposed to be artists too).
Brief, bittersweet, insightful and intelligent. I much, much preferred this over the weak "Never Let Me Go".
8 / 10
Author of "Half Discovered Wings"
on 21 April 2015
Have just finished this and it left me feeling sad. Must every generation rubbish the past? Must deeds sincerely performed be regretted when the political climate changes? Ono is certainly guilty of pride and vanity, but I found it impossible not to have some sympathy for him.
on 24 December 2012
While being a very pleasant read I wasn't enthralled. It's had great reviews so I suspect the problem is me - I don't know enough about Japanese history (and maybe also culture) to adequtely contextualise the story. I am reading another Japanese book at the moment and it shares some similarity of style which is also feeling somewhat unfamiliar to me. Possibly with continued effort with this genre will appeal more. It feels a bit like the first time I read Trollope's Barsetshire series; I first had to put effort into adapting myself to the style before I could lose myself in the stories (it was worth the effort). I think what these books share is a focus on very well observed and detailed nuances of people rather than pacy page turning "car chase" action/adventure. Sorry, this didn't end up as a review of the book so much as a review of my inexperience. (I do love Remains of the Day and Never let me Go films though ...!). If I persist with the genre I wonder if my star ratings will improve ? I hope so, this book makes me feel a bit, well, inadequate.
on 24 June 2009
I bought 'An Artist Of The Floating World' after spotting the title amongst a list of the greatest books of all time and I wasn't disappointed. Ishiguro leads the reader through a floating world of fractured prose narrated by the main character, the acclaimed artist Ono. As he recounts the events surrounding his youngest daughter's marriage negiotations, with various disgressions along the way, he informs the reader of his own experiences as an aspiring artist and his part in the war.
What I really enjoyed about this book was the narrator's voice. I could almost imagine myself sitting in a secluded bar with Ono telling me his life story, it is such a personal tone that Ishiguro employs. The story unfolds slowly and the realisation that Ono is in some ways considered a traitor to the state is revealed through subtle prose.
There are several moments in the story where you realise that history is repeating itself, as Ono reflects on his actions as a youth the reader will notice a similarity in those of youths that Ono encouters during his retirement.
Overall I enjoyed the book but gave it four out of five because I found Ono's self-effacing tone a little tiresome towards the end. His humility was a little difficult to believe (and this was probably Ishiguro's intention, who's to say?) and I wasn't sure if I was reading an unreliable narrator or not.
It is a quietly beautiful meditation on the effects of Japan after the war and I highly recommend it.