AN ARTIST OF THE FLOATING WORLD
Set in the years immediately after WW II in Japan, Ishiguro's novel bears down upon a Japanese painter, Ono, now middle-aged, who has totally renounced his art, who decided (some years before) to make no more. Thereafter, he lives a semi-tranquil life with his family--a wife, grown daughters, even a grandson--and seems to have made peace with his renunciation (although occasionally his ego still finds itself craving artistic recognition). But why Ono stopped painting, stopped the trajectory of his obviously very great talent, remains the central question. Partly the reason was political: an apprehension--abstracted from the way his fellow art students treated their teacher, their sensei--that blind submission to authority was too easily achieved. Partly it was moral: the fear of art being turned into propaganda (as he saw happen with some of his fellow artists who became poster-makers for the war machine). And partly it had to do with Ono's psychology, finding itself crushed by the riding tide of antihumane values rolling through prewar imperial Japan. Ishiguro (A Pale View of Hills) handles Ono's dilemma better as something in the past, as memory, than he does when showing Ono in the here and now; those sections tend to be static, too oblique. One scene--of a miai: a prenuptial family dinner--borrows heavily from Tanazaki's The Makioka Sisters, without Tanazaki's sense of an unfolding center. Ono and his dilemma are rigidly contoured from the first--but we seem to be more reading about it than simultaneously suffering, feeling with it.