Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another Ishiguro, with an unlikeable narrator

I'm not sure how I felt about When We Were Oprhans by Kazuo Ishiguro. Wait, yes I am, I just don't want to admit it to myself. I enjoyed the other two books I'd read by him so much that it sort of hurts to admit that I didn't think much of this one.

This book is a detective novel, in the sense that the main character is a detective. He grew up in Shanghai between the wars. First his father, then his mother were kidnapped, and he was sent to live in England with his aunt, where he grew up, became a detective, and ultimately returned to Shanghai to try to learn what happened to his parents.

Except, he's kind of a lame character. And not in any particular way. He's self-aggrandizing, believes himself to have always been a popular child, despite evidence to the contrary, and is a social climber, despite his insistent denials of those aspirations to the reader. He adopts an orphan himself, and seemingly loses interest in her almost immediately. There's a quasi-romantic subplot, but he doesn't seem to like her much, and disparages her as a climber (he ought to know).

The payoff should have been in the plot, but that also sort of fell flat. The truth about what happened to his parents is much, much less interesting than what his shadowy recollections might have assisted the reader in conjuring up. So I have to say this book was a disappointment, but not enough to put me off Ishiguro permanently. In fact, I liked the others that I read so much that I will probably read all of his books, even if I dislike them as well.