Book review: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro


Goodness, where do I start with this book? There’s no way to discuss it without spoiling it, so if you haven’t read it, go and do so and then please come back and get discussing!

A Pale View of Hills was Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel, although now he’s more famous for Remains of the Day (which I haven’t read) and Never Let Me Go (which I have and which broke my heart).

In England a middle-aged Japanese woman caled Etsuko is visited by her daughter Niki, shortly after the death of her older child, Keiko. As the pair spend a few days with each other, Etsuko has a dream, which brings back memories of her time in Japan.

She recalls post-war Nagasaki, and a mysterious woman she met, Sachiko, and her young daughter Mariko. The story she tells is of one summer where she was pregnant, her father-in-law was visiting, Sachiko was trying to escape to America, and someone was murdering young children in her neighbourhood.

But rather than a straightforward narrative, Ishiguro flits around, leaving huge gaps in Etsuko’s story. A Pale View of Hills is partly a story about memories, and how we remember things. This tool is used to greater effect in Never Let Me Go, but you can clearly see Ishiguro exploring the concept of memory in A Pale View of Hills.

With all the gaps, it’s up the reader to decide what happens, and there are two main theories:

  • Etsuko is Sachiko, but because she is ashamed of her earlier behaviour (Sachiko is not a very good mother), Etsuko decides to remember past behaviours as though they belong to someone else. This would make Mariko, who we see as a depressed, lonely young child, Keiko, which fits with what we know of Keiko in later life – that she killed herself because she was depressed.
  • Etsuko and Sachiko are two separate characters, and Etsuko is actually the child murderer. Very little is said on this subject, but there comes a point at the end of the book where Etsuko confronts Mariko, who is visibly afraid of her and a rope she holds, and who runs away from her.

I’m more in the camp of the first interpretation, although on reading that final scene between Etsuko and Mariko I thought she was about to kill the child. Then again, that final scene also goes in favour of the first argument, as Etsuko suddenly starts speaking to Mariko as though she is her mother. Perhaps A Pale View of Hills is both theories combined?

There is plenty left unanswered in A Pale View of Hills, and neither theory fits perfectly. As a debut novel, it’s an interesting book, but I wonder if it would be different if Ishiguro sat down to write it now, with more experience and books under his belt. As a coherent novel it doesn’t quite work, there are too many gaps and things that don’t quite fit. As a piece of writing however, it’s got Ishiguro’s poetic style all through it, and it’s a great exercise for later novels (having only read Never Let Me Go that’s the only one I can attest to). I recommend A Pale View of Hills, but warn that it will probably leave you confused. And if it does, come and let me know what you thought happened.

How I got this book: From the local library

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Trish Hannon says:

    That sounds so interesting, I love that there are two different interpretations and that it is open to you as reader to decide which fits.


  2. I do recommend it. It's not as good as Never Let Me Go, but I found it a really interesting exercise in writing.



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