Review: An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

For my first review in the category of odd literary fiction, I chose Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1986 novel set in post World War 2 Japan. With efforts like The Remains of the Day (a Man Booker prize winner) under his belt, Ishiguro’s body of work sits firmly within the realm of the high brow – and yet I found this novel more than strange enough to include here.

As with most of his books, Floating World is told in the first person, and makes heavy use of flashbacks to drive the narrative. The protagonist, Masuji Ono, is an elderly artist who, it gradually becomes clear, once used his talents for less than ideal purposes. Much of the book deals with Ono’s half-hearted attempts to accept responsibility for his past actions.

What makes this novel truly unusual though, is the extent to which Ono acts as an unreliable narrator. He spends an inordinate amount of time reflecting on his former status and influence, but there is something slightly off about his musings, and you end up searching the fringes of his recollections for clues as to what’s really going on. It’s a fascinating but frustrating pursuit that had me compulsively reading onward in the hopes that Ono would finally spill the beans and admit to being a war mongering asshole. But although he does come close, he never quite gets there, and I think that is probably my favourite part about the whole thing.

I also liked the insights provided into Japanese culture, particularly the transition from mass indulgence to imperialism and on to the commerce-driven society that exists today. Shifting attitudes toward the elderly are discussed as well, with the younger generation blaming their precursors (not incorrectly) for the war. Overall, the book succeeds in capturing a moment in time that is largely responsible for shaping modern Japan, and the unreliable narrator mechanism is used to the best effect I’ve ever seen. Go read it.

Prose: A

Plot: C+

Characterisation: A-

Originality: B

Weird factor: C

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ODDNOVELS is a book review blog that I write just for the hell of it. If it's weird or wildly speculative, you will find it here.