Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Pale View of Hills Book Club

Warning: comments section contains many spoilers

7 comments:

moonrat said...

My first concern is what you think about Etsuko's identity--the whole relationship with Sachiko is so strange throughout; made weirdest of all by the scene at the end where Etsuko is telling Mariko that "we" can always come back. And of course you never learn anything about "Frank" or about Etsuko's husband.

The theory online (I looked up every review I could) is that Sachiko and Etsuko are the same person, and Sachiko is a way for Etsuko to deal with and channel her past--an imaginary manifestation of her guilt at dooming her daughter (Keiko/Mariko). Other people online said that Etsuko merely has mixed up the history in her mind, conflating her own story with her friend Sachiko's, as an empathetic survival mechanism.

Ishiguro himself said about this book that he was not so concerned what characters felt guilty about or had to survive, but was concerned rather with HOW they went about surviving. So maybe this conversation doesn't matter. But I can't help asking.

The thing about the book that was most sinister to me, and which wasn't discussed anywhere online at all (and thus made me desperate to open conversation here!!), was the child murderer lurking in the back of the story who is never brought up again. There are two moments when Etsuko is talking to Mariko and there is reference to something that has gotten caught on her foot--in the first instance it is a rope--and in the second Etsuko insists to Mariko that she is "not going to hurt" her.

There is also the provocative element of Etsuko's dream at the beginning--it is not a swing the little girl is on, Etsuko confesses to Niki, but Niki does not choose to pick up the conversation cue.

So was Etsuko the murderer, herself? This seems a little improbable, but I can't help feeling that Ishiguro didn't drop all of those hints idly. Or did she contemplate copy-catting the murders in order to free Mariko (or is it Keiko?) from the burden of going overseas? It almost looks like the exercise with the kittens was a practice go at euthenasia (in her mind, at least)--easier to kill than to force the journey.

Etsuko mentions that Keiko was seven--Mariko's age--when she was forced to leave her father. Was Etsuko in fact pregnant with Niki, and Mariko was Keiko?

Please, thoughts, anyone? This is driving me crazy!

Ello said...

So sorry! Meant to do this last night but ended up with a terrible headache and went to bed early. But here I am!

I adore Ishiguro. He is by far my most favorite contemporary author. And I loved this book because it was so intriguing. Now it has been a while since I last read it but I vividly remember that I believed Etsuko to be Sachiko because this whole book was about an unreliable narrator. You have to pull apart the truth within the narrative. For it is all there, just not as it is told to us. I believe she made Etsuko up AS a manifestation as a survival mechanism. And I totally agree with you about the sinister aspect of the child murder allusion. I remember thinking Etsuko killed her child which Sachiko also did - by causing her daughter's death by leaving Japan. In part I wondered if the sense that the child was murdered was a pscyhological output by Sachiko - thinking that she was a bad mother - because Etsuko claims she is a bad mother. I remembered thinking, Sachiko either thinks Keiko/Mariko died in Japan really or that she should have died in Japan. But either way, I had no doubt that Sachiko was Etsuko and that this was how she dealt with her guilt. LIke killing the kittens, I believe she felt she killed Keiko/Mariko by her bad choices. While the real Keiko did not die then, she apparently lived a miserable life in England. This may have been the same thing as death to Sachiko.

Anyway, am I making any sense?

Anonymous said...

I think that Etsuko and Sachiko are the same person and that Etsuko's life is her pre-war life; ordered, polite and "normal." Sachiko is post-war; forced to work a menial job and to do things outside of her comfort zone in order to survive.

I also think Keiko and Mariko are the same child.

I wonder if the drowning of the kittens demonstrates the humanity that was snatched from some people's hearts after the war, when they were doing whatever was necessary to survive?

I hadn't thought of the murderer again until you brought it up. Perhaps it is a reference to the children who died in the dropping of the bomb? Who were, in essence, murdered?

I think I'm going to have to read the book again...!

Ello said...

Hmmm, I may have to read it again real soon too. Will go pull out my trusty copy. I remember vividly thinking Mariko was killed. Am I wrong? Is my memory being as unreliable as Sachiko's? Very intriguing how my own interpretation has changed the how I look at the book!

Erik said...

I do not believe Etsuko and Sachiko are the same person. Ishiguro uses parallels throughout the book, the Etsuko/Sachiko one being the most obvious and perhaps the most important. These parallels transcend time and often place. Off the top of my head, here are a few others: (1) lack of respect of child to parent (Etsuko's husband and father in law/Niki and Etsuko), (2) death of innocence by drowning (drowned baby/drowned kittens), (3) suicide (death of woman who drowned baby/Keiko (am I remembering this right?)), and (4) ghosts (woman who drowned baby/ghost of Keiko). I'm sure there are others that I've forgotten or didn't notice.

It is not surprising that Etsuko, an aging and emotionally scarred woman, might mix up her own experiences with those of Sachiko, especially in light of the close parallels in their lives. I think without question the scene at the end apparently between Etsuko and Mariko was in fact between Etsuko and Keiko. (The use of "we" really gives this away.) However, I don't think Etsuko is presented as a narrator who would intentionally and consciously fabricate much of her story. Too much information is given about the details of her own life (in particular, that she is carrying her first child) as she gets to know Sachiko. Sachiko is an important character in that she, because of her similar experiences and desires, allows Etsuko to delicately and subtly touch on her own life.

moonrat said...

Thanks, Erik. It's good to hear a different take on this.

Loren said...

I stumbled upon this site because I couldn't stop thinking about this book after reading it! I felt like I needed closure.

Despite having read almost all of Ishiguro's books (except The Unconsoled - I got too annoyed with the townspeople to finish it - but I digress), I never seem to tire of his style of writing. He grabs you in a subtle way but doesn't really tell you everything, and the ending of Pale View is quite typical of this author. I remember similar questions arising in my mind after finishing When We Were Orphans, another excellent work.

I agree with Erik's view regarding the parallelisms throughout the book. At some point I also wondered whether Etsuko and Sachiko were actually one and the same and whether Sachiko was merely her "shadow" against which she can project the darker side of her character. Then again, maybe the answer is simply up to you, regardless of what the author intended. It is this very ambivalence that makes Pale View such an intriguing book, and gives it a depth that goes beyond just the plot.

This first work probably shows his fascination with the fragility and malleability of memories, which he again explores in later books.