I did English Lit. for A-level (High School, for my non-Commonwealth friends). I may have mentioned this before. Every so often they’ll try to refresh the curriculum by including a book or two that wasn’t written by a dead white guy, so in addition to The Canterbury Tales, Othello, and Coriolanus, we also studied The Remains of the Day.
An Artist of the Floating World was written a couple of years before TROTD, and it’s easy to see similar themes being worked through, almost like a practice session. It’s so much more than that though, and it makes me regret not revisiting this author long ago. The pacing and control are phenomenal as Ishiguro gives us another aging, unreliable narrator looking back on a life wasted in the support of the wrong side of history; looking back with a painful mixture of self-aggrandisement, self-obsession, and ultimately self-delusion.
For all that this is a short book the process of self-inflicted character assassination is agonizingly slow and drawn-out. At no point is the eponymous artist allowed the brutal but decisive disembowelment of Seppuku, but we much watch as he instead chooses to commit suicide of the ego through an infinity of paper cuts to the soul, as his pretensions to influence and legacy are flayed away to reveal the sad and shabby skeleton beneath.
“…real quarrels were rare at the Migi-Hidari, all of us who frequented that place being united by the same essential spirit; that is to say, the establishment proved to be everything that Yamagata had wished; it represented something fine and one could get drunk there with pride and dignity.”