Group Read, August 2018: An Artist of the Floating World

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Group Read, August 2018: An Artist of the Floating World

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Ago 1, 2018, 3:34 pm

Our group read for August is Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World. Please join in the read and post any comments on this thread.

Ago 1, 2018, 3:41 pm

I just downloaded this from my library. I will start it after I finish The English Patient.

I've read A Pale View of Hills, Remains of the Day, and Never Let me Go already by this author and have always wanted to have someone to discuss his books with. Hopefully this book is similar and we can get some good discussion going!

Ago 2, 2018, 12:58 pm

I have ordered a copy from the library but it hasn't arrived yet, hopefully I will have it next week sometime.

Ago 5, 2018, 5:16 am

it might be useful to write down how you feel about the protagonist after, say, 20 pages and then compare it with how you feel about him at the end of the novel

Editado: Ago 5, 2018, 7:52 am

>4 arukiyomi: intriguing comment. I've read 28 pages and my impression of the narrator is that he is a respected member of his community but a bit of a social climber. I find his tone makes me suspect that he tries to appear humble but thinks fairly highly of himself and where he's ended up.

From reading other books by Ishiguro, I do know that every word counts and things aren't always as they seem. I love an unreliable narrator so I'm looking forward to this!

I've read the first quarter of the book and am interested to see where things go. I do love Ishiguro's writing style.

Editado: Ago 5, 2018, 3:34 pm

>4 arukiyomi: Very intrigued by this as well! I'm only about 25 pages in.

I'm glad to be reading a Japanese novel about World War II & its aftermath. There are so many German post-war novels on the list, reflecting back on those experiences, but the only Japanese one I can recall reading was Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, a very disturbing and memorable book.

Are there other Japanese WWII novels on the list? Are there, actually, any Chinese ones, besides Empire of the Sun which is written by an English person? In Nanjing, at the Museum of the Nanjing Massacre, there was a joint timeline of the Holocaust and the Japanese atrocities in China, which surprised me a lot. Also surprising was that if you were from an Allied country, you got into the museum free! Anyway, I was thinking how many novels I have read about one and how few about the other.

Ago 5, 2018, 5:03 pm

I will start soon, maybe after I finish the two short ones I'm reading now (Hour of the Star and July's People).

Editado: Ago 5, 2018, 6:25 pm

>6 annamorphic: I don't know the answer to that. I certainly haven't read any Japanese or Chinese books about post-WWII. It would be interesting to have more of that perspective.

ETA - just remembered that Wild Swans is on the list and definitely covers some of that era.

Ago 6, 2018, 5:34 am

well arguably, this novel is also written by someone British, Ishiguro having left Japan when he was five. At least J.G. Ballard experienced the events he wrote about.

The war is not something anyone in Japan talks about. In the six years I was there, although I read about it a great deal because it fascinated me, it never once came up in conversation even around anniversaries such as the annual widely observed atomic bomb memorial days. Those are viewed not as acts in response to Japanese aggression but rather regrettable incidents that should motivate us toward peace. They're very much seen from the perspective of victims. It's a strange one.

There are episodes in Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicle that are based in WW2. Other than that, I too am drawing a blank for this list.

On the 1001 Movies list though, is the incredibly beautiful and moving Grave of the Fireflies which I heartily recommend you watch if you've never seen it.

Editado: Ago 8, 2018, 7:42 pm

I've finished and I'm left with many questions. Don't read the following til you've finished!


I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. The unreliable narrator is really quite unreliable and seems to even know it himself. Through the whole middle of the book I thought something quite sinister was going on - as though Ono had himself committed egregious war atrocities. And maybe he did. Certainly his role in denouncing others was an atrocity in a sense, but the way the book is written it's so trivialized that it makes it hard to understand what really happened. But then I guess his conscience was mainly coming to terms with his role in promoting the war through his artwork, though even there I don't think I understand enough about Japan to know exactly what he believed before and during the war. I feel like the narrator focused his own story on his artwork because he couldn't even think about the role as a denouncer - the artwork was easier to admit to. I'm not quite sure if he profited from his actions during the war - is that why he could afford the big house? Then his last conversation with Setsuko made me wonder if the shunning he was perceiving from his family and friends may not have been happening to the extent he reported. It was all very confusing - but intriguing.

In the end, I think that was Ishiguro's point - sort of a study of the interior and mind of someone trying to rationalize/come to terms with their role in a war and move forward. I like this sort of interior exploration, but the problem for me is that I don't have a ton of context to set it in because I know little of the Japanese experience in WWII.

I'm looking forward to what everyone else made of this and hoping you all can help clarify some of it.

Ago 9, 2018, 5:43 pm

>4 arukiyomi: I’m 20 pages in now. As >6 annamorphic: says it is going to be interesting to read something set in Japan just after the war.

As for the protagonist, he seems to have been a well respected member of the community, yet there are hints that this may no longer be the case - the broken off engagement of his daughter, his hanging out with one ex pupil where there he was formerly the center of a crowd. Is this postwar dislocation or something more specific to him?

Reading on....

Editado: Ago 10, 2018, 8:34 pm

I'm over half way through and finding this a fascinating study in guilt and self-doubt that play off a past history of great pride and self-satisfaction.

The manipulative obsequiousness shown to Ono by several people, including his daughter, is annoying yet it also helps build the sense of tension because you're never really sure what people really think.

Ago 10, 2018, 3:52 pm

I have finished my read of An Artist of the Floating World and although I am mostly quite positive about this book and will definitely be reading this author again, I did find his writing here quite reserved and contained. This might have been deliberate as it fit the style of this story although I would have liked to have seen a little more passion included. This was my first book by Ishiguro and I wonder if this is the way he always writes or does he change his style to fit each different story?

Ago 10, 2018, 4:11 pm

>13 DeltaQueen50:
I've read several of his books now and I'd say it is his style. But I also think it's a reflection of his perception of Japanese culture which I've heard is very reserved, polite, interior, and non-confrontational. I wonder if there is anyone familiar with Japanese culture who could comment on this as I am certainly not.

Editado: Ago 10, 2018, 10:21 pm

>14 japaul22: I think you are right on both counts. Ishiguro has a restrained writing style but also chooses protagonists who would likely be restrained in any case. The Japanese artist in this novel is a court jester compared with the butler in the brilliant Remains of the Day.

It would be good to have had some factual background on the Japanese society’s attitudes to Japan’s aggression before and during the war. Something I’m completely ignorant about but it would be fair to assume differences of opinion and subsequent regret featured regularly. Education in Australia focuses on the front line and prison camps where Australian forces were involved,

Ago 10, 2018, 9:52 pm

>14 japaul22: & >15 puckers: I have Remains of the Day on my shelves so I will be reading that one at some point. I am looking forward to it as this author really does write beautifully.

Ago 10, 2018, 10:48 pm

>16 DeltaQueen50: Remains of the Day is my best read of this year so far. It is similar to this novel as both have unreliable narrators, justifying their past actions without really admitting any mistakes. Both are blinded by loyalty to higher individuals/institutions over personal moral considerations. (I say all this without having yet completed An Artist, so the endings might be different)

Ago 11, 2018, 6:53 am

>16 DeltaQueen50: I also loved Remains of the Day, but Never Let Me Go was my first Ishiguro and it made a huge impact on me. A Pale View of Hills is also very good but left me with tons and tons of questions - the most ambiguity of any of his books I've read thus far.

Ago 12, 2018, 11:24 am

Almost done with this. Feeling still very confused by the memories and actions of our main character, what he has actually done and what was done to him, what parts of his own inner self-blame he is projecting onto others. In A Pale View of the Hills I felt at the end that I "got" a major part of what made the narrator unreliable but here I am less sure. Maybe the last 15 pages or so will clear it all up. But I doubt it.

Ago 13, 2018, 11:30 pm

>17 puckers: & >18 japaul22: My brother passed his copy of The Remains of the Day along to me and I know he loved it as well. Never Let Me Go is high on my wish list, it sounds like a book that will really appeal to me. That's the best thing about reading the 1,001 List - so many new authors I have discovered that I really enjoy.

Ago 14, 2018, 2:57 pm

Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go are both great reads (and very different). There are movies for both and I thought they did a great job at capturing the mood for each (and I rarely like book-based movies).

Ago 18, 2018, 11:23 am

I just finished An Artist of the Floating World and overall liked the novel, but not as much as Remains of the Day perhaps just because I read the latter first. I keep thinking back to Remains and thinking this was so similar, just with a different setting.

Ago 18, 2018, 12:34 pm

I'm about two thirds in the book and I enjoy the style a lot. This is my first Ishiguro, and he just seems like an 19th century author writing about contemporary themes. This is meant as a compliment. I really enjoy how conflicts and attitudes are expressed i very subtle ways.

From my point of view, not having finished the book yet, the main question is what to make of the narrator and his memories. Is he a naive artist not realizing the considerably influence he has on others and just walking through post-war Japan believing he has nothing to regret? Or is this a convenient cover, a role he chooses to play now and when he reflects on his relationship to his pupils? I just read about Noriko's engagement where he "regrets" but that seemed like an act even though it had the desired effect.

His reflections on art is also interesting. When he works in the "art factory" he defends The Turtle, because he doesn't compromise and insists on his own artistic vision. The narrator does not. He fits in the factory, he fits with his own master and just seems to run with what ever is popular at the moment.

Ago 19, 2018, 4:46 am

those of you who are commenting on the fact that the narrator is unreliable and seems unable to grasp the full implication of his past actions are spot on in thinking that this is intentional and what Ishiguro intends to convey about Japanese society. The fact that we never really know exactly what he did is all part of it too. As japaul22 said "the way the book is written it's so trivialized that it makes it hard to understand what really happened." That's entirely intentional.

From my experience of Japanese culture, this book is extremely accurate in portraying the inability to face things that were done by an individual under pressure from the group. Japanese people don't live as individuals. They get all their social cues from the groups they find themselves in. If those groups change, as happened to many after the war, it can be impossible for them to come to terms with this. They entirely lose their identity.

Japanese don't do individual responsibility too well. When someone resigns in the wake of a scandal or commits suicide, it isn't about them but about the shame they're bringing to their group that drives them to it. When being part of the group becomes untenable, they remove themselves from it, sometimes in the most shocking way possible.

After the war, the Japanese people as a whole went through a crisis the like of which I don't think any other nation will ever understand. One illustration of this was that their Emperor was forced to renounce his deity. The mere thought of that being a necessity is astonishing.

Ishiguro has masterfully revealed the inner and societal conflicts that plagued millions of Japanese after the war. Almost everyone who had a direct relationship to the conflict is now dead, but the nation as a whole still finds talking about it almost impossible. The old want to forget, the young don't know how to remember. For me, novels like Ishiguro's are therefore important voices in a world of silence.

Ago 19, 2018, 5:37 am

>24 arukiyomi: great insights - thanks. It helps to explain some of the vagueness both about the extent of the artists war activities, and the extent to which his former friends have moved from him or he has moved away from them.

Editado: Ago 20, 2018, 2:59 am

I have finished the book now and feel even more confused. Some of the points I made above seems to be undermined by the last part of the novel, and as >10 japaul22: says, the last conversation with Setsuko seems to indicate that much of the doubt and selfquestioning is actually the narrator judging himself. Maybe.

I did find his coming to terms with himself intriguing. Essentially he says, that he (and others) has made many grave mistakes, but it was through lack of understanding the consequences. As such he can still be proud of what he has achieved, even though others suffered for it, but he acknowledges the right of the next generation to do something different.

This is a very convenient way of handling the past and it is hard to think of a bigger contrast to the German Vergangenheitsbewältigung

>24 arukiyomi: Thanks for some great insights - Japanese culture really is different.

Ago 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

>24 arukiyomi: Thank you so much for those remarks! Very thought-provoking.

Ago 22, 2018, 6:30 am

I read this book a while ago and am therefore not participating in this GR, just following the thread. >24 arukiyomi: Thank you for those insights, they make me want to reread it soon!

About the discussion above (>17 puckers: and others), I believe it's "official" that the Remains of the Day is something like a re-write of this one in a different cultural setting. I don't remember where I read it, but it wasn't only once. Maybe even in the 1,001 book. I read both with much time in between, I should plan both for a reread.

Editado: Nov 21, 2018, 4:26 pm

>6 annamorphic: >9 arukiyomi: re the discussion on Japanese authored books set in postwar Japan, the third volume of Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy (The Temple of Dawn) is mainly set in war time and postwar Tokyo, though apart from the ruined suburbs and subsequent American occupation forces there isn’t much time spent on the impacts of the war on the Japanese population.

Nov 24, 2018, 12:48 am

thanks for that!