Review of ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

The second novel by Kazuo Ishiguro won the Whitbread Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. As usual with his books, I was frustrated by the meandering style and vague plot. However, I found the content to be thought-provoking.

Narrated by Masuji Ono, a retired painter, the story examines Japanese attitudes to the past, the differences between generations, social etiquette and dealing with guilt. Ono goes back and forth between memories, which is sometimes a little confusing. He particularly dwells upon the fate of acquaintances he feels responsible for, although the explanations are very slowly revealed. The style is quite formal and conveys the suggestion that it was translated from Japanese.

I don’t know what else I can say about this book. It’s difficult to process because I find Ishiguro’s work so obscure, as if I’m trying to see it through fog. The book is masterful in its sensitivity and evocation of postwar Japan. The writing style is what I have trouble with.

First published in 1986. The 30th anniversary edition has an introduction by the author and has some odd typos.

9 thoughts on “Review of ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ by Kazuo Ishiguro”

  1. I agree with you, seeing it “through fog”, astutely put! I now have an “issue” with Ishiguro’s writing. I am a big admirer of him and always will be, but I am also now a bit frustrated when people say that his writing style is so “original”. Whoever say that obviously didn’t read many, if any, Japanese authors. It is only when I read some prominent Japanese authors of the past that I realised how much of that Ishiguro’s “subtlety” and “obscurity” in writing actually derives from the Japanese literature, and most likely borrowed from some Japanese masters (unheard of in the West, obviously). Of course, that does not make Ishiguro less of a prose master, but I am now seeing his work in a completely different light.

    1. Thanks, you are absolutely right, he did not invent that style of writing but a lot of readers wouldn’t know that unless they know Japanese authors. I do remember you reviewing this one! I did admire the book but I will always find him difficult to read.

    1. I think of all his books I’ve read, either this one or Never Let Me Go would be my recommendation 🙂

  2. I am keen to read more of Ishiguro’s works, so perhaps I’ll look into this one. However, after my disappointment with Klara and the Sun, it may be a while before I’ll pick up the next one. Generally, I think I may get on better with meandering style and vague plot than you do. 😊

    1. If Klara and the Sun was your first Ishiguro, I’m happy to report that Never Let Me Go, An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day are better. It’s definitely worth trying one of those 🙂

      1. I have read Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, both of which I loved. That is perhaps why Klara was such a disappointment. I will get to more of his earlier books, though.

  3. OOOOOO THE COVER!! Love it! Ahhhh sorry you didn’t enjoy this one 🙁 I have yet to read any of his works. Maybe one day when time allows 😀

    1. A very attractive cover, I agree! 🙂 I don’t regret reading it, I do always have mixed feelings when I read his books. I think if you are going to read him then either this one or Never Let Me Go.

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