Ishiguro’s novels are beautiful. That’s the one word the springs to mind immediately when thinking of his writing. No matter what the setting or storyline, the writing draws you completely into the world and characters; yet still retains that mystery and distance that he creates so well.
An Artist of the Floating World is told from the perspective of Masuji Ono, in the late 1940’s Japanese society that is slowly transforming into a new age and leaving him behind. The novel is based on memory and recollection; Ono’s perceptions of the past and remembrances of the world he knew are compared to the reality he is living in and the post war landscape. It’s a time of change, especially for the roles of women and the way people look at Japan’s past and role in the war. Changing is not something that Ono can do, however. He is fixated on the past, forcing himself through the novel to retrace his steps and clarify his beliefs.
Guilt is a major theme of the novel. Guilt of a society, and guilt of the individual. Ono flickers between accepting his role in the war, and the way Japan itself behaves after defeat, and fighting to forget and simply live in the past. He obsesses himself with arranging his daughter’s marriage, and attempts to press the old ways on his grandson; the only other male in the family he seems to have any connection with.
His world is falling apart. His traditions, his friends and his home are not what they once were. His reputation is damaged by his actions, and his guilt for what he believed was the right path during the war prevents his from progressing at all. The novel is circular; progress is made only to regress.
It is a heart breaking, insightful and wonderfully composed piece. Definitely worth a read.