Sunday, May 22, 2011

Disconcerting Narrator

I've read several of Kazuo Ishiguro's books before, so I picked up When We Were Orphans for the car (I play CDs of library books in the car).

There's something about the narrator, perhaps his total delusional self-centeredness, that makes me want to smack him upside the head, so to speak. I'm at a point where he's gone back to Shanghai, where he'd lived as a boy until his parents disappeared (and he was sent to live with an aunt in England), as an adult, 18 years later, and he's trying to solve his parents' disappearance.

But he's trying to do this against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion/occupation in the mid-30s, and he just doesn't seem to get that after 18 years, it's pretty darned unlikely that any kidnapper would keep his parents alive, and also that the war might just be more important than his parents (especially since 18 years is a long time to be missing). How do you tell soldiers who are on the very front line that they should drop what they're doing (trying to hold the line) and help you sneak behind the line to find where you think your parents were 18 years earlier?

The book is weirdly set in a world where there are famous detectives, not fictional detectives (though, of course, they are since this is a fiction), but within the world of the text, real detectives. And I'm just not buying it. I bet very few people could name even a couple detectives for their fame in the real world (as opposed to fiction). Yes, I can probably still vaguely recall some LA detectives because they were witnesses in a couple of cases. But they aren't known because they were really good detectives. (The ones in the OJ case, for example, seemed to have botched some stuff. And the ones in the Rodney King case did worse.)

I'm guessing I'm about half-way through, and I'm trying to decide if I should just be done or actually finish. I rarely give myself permission to stop a book before I finish. What's stopping me here is that Ishiguro is generally worth the effort. Is this one, though?

In other news, I haven't finished grading, but I did read Water for Elephants and it was GREAT! You should all read it.

Yes, I am working slowly on the grading, too.


  1. The only one I liked was Remains of the Day - the others were too weird. One about organ harvesting I think.

    But please, please tell me you are joking about Water for Elephants.

  2. never let me go is the one sara mentions. (her summary gives away a piece of information that is not immediately apparent.) my book club read it -- well written, disturbing, lots of points for discussion. more complex and layered than the movie version.

    i haven't read when we were orphans, but would guess that things develop in the second half. this is not set in modern times, is it? so fewer tools [databases; internet searches] would have been available. but investigators do unravel old mysteries [or pieces of them], even today. their names may not be trumpeted in the news on a constant basis, but their methods are a combination of research, talking to people, getting leads and following them; rinse and repeat. so, i'm not sure i'd dismiss the plot as outlandish.

  3. Yeah that's it. It was so creepy, and couldn't ever quite get the point. I loved the restrained tone of The Remains of the Day, the historical aspects. It had a classic feel to it. The others, not so much.

  4. I read all of Ishiguro I could get right after I read Never Let Me Go; When We Were Orphans is his weakest book, I think. I also think it's his first novel? But I might have that bit wrong. I do remember having your reaction, though, Bardiac. It was weird and unlikely, and I kept not being able to believe it (and as a SF /slipstream writer & reader I am good at believing the unlikely).

    I can't remember how it ended -- not a good sign -- but I don't think it got better.

  5. I so thought you were going to go where I went with the protagonist od The Kite Runner--never in my life have I so wanted to smack a paper-person! And that turns out to be part of the genius of Hosseini. Ultimately, it and he and they blew me away.

    I read--and LOVED--Water for Elephants the FIRST time it hit all the lists several years ago now. Sara--you're the first to disparage that piece in my periphery... I won't see the film; nothing like a movie to ruin a good book, I often say.

  6. Anonymous6:52 PM

    I loved Water for Elephants too... and won't see the movie, because it just can't get better than the book..

  7. Well, my gripe with it was basically the same as everyone who didn't like it. Read any negative review on Amazon (flat characters, plot driven, no actual development) and that's what I didn't like.

    I didn't realize all of Ishiguro's stuff was speculative/sci-fi except for Remains of the Day. That might be more to Bardiac's taste.