I saw the book in the library. I hesitated. I seemed to recall it had been received with coolness by reviewers? But I thought to myself, he is such a good writer, can it really be that bad? And so I started reading last week, and pretty much looked forward to the end of the day, each day, so I could read another 50 pages. Wonderful prose. A brilliant “British” novel. Naturally, you have to be steeped in the British writing tradition to really enjoy, but if you are, you will. More importantly, Ishiguro introduces a writing technique that was largely new to me: repetition, haziness, circling back, mixing dialogue with interior monologue, unfinished tales. On this last, I have read many “original” folktales, the kind collected by the early ‘anthropologists’ who sat with loquacious storytellers in villages all across Africa. Those unvarnished folktales have a lot in common with the novel. They are often seem unfinished, to the modern reader, and they often seem to drift from anecdote to anecdote without a common thread. Part of that, presumably, is that they were oral tales quasi-made up in the course of interrupted conversation, with some audience participation. This novel evokes that feeling: the hesitations almost beg for one of the characters to start filling in a few details, or to change the direction of the story. And that sometimes happens. The characters correct each other: “No, that is not what happened, what happened was…” Characters that are introduced, and seem important, disappear into the mist.
Aside from the writing and technique, the novel provokes a profound meditation: what is this narrative of our lives, individual and collective, when so much is forgotten and invented? Ishiguro does not neatly answer the question, because the novel is about the asking. So you have to be comfortable with ambiguity.
Neil Gaiman wrote a much better review than I ever could for The New York Times.