If you haven’t yet, you must read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel A Pale View of Hills. The story of a Japanese woman who befriends a strange lady with an even stranger daughter in the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki is so captivating you will not want to put it down. It is really a story within a story, in which you will learn about the Japanese culture, delicious food, tea, and how everyone beats around the bush before they get to the point. Ishiguro masterfully portrays various relationships that to the Western culture seem too formal, cold, and detached, yet there is something fascinating about them, something thought-provoking. You’ll want to linger and examine each and every one of them.
Ishiguro’s use of language is thrilling—and I mean this literally. The novel starts with a memory of a suicide and climaxes with (spoiler alert!!!) an indication of murder. But it is done is such a spooky way that your imagination commits the crime, not the writer or the character. This, my friends, I call BRILLIANCE. The power of suggestion!
I was so taken by Ishiguro’s novel that I couldn’t sleep for days. There were moments (and dreams) in which I thought: “This book is completely mental. It makes no sense. The character is telling the story about a strange girl, but in the end it feels like the girl is her own daughter!” If you read between the lines and analyze as you read like I do, you will notice a significant shift in the point of view, voice, tone, and mood from one sentence to the next in the climax of the story. It’ll shake you to your very core. Again—Ishiguro does this with ONE sentence. WOW! A thousand thoughts will flash through your mind, and you will begin to tie the loose ends of the ropes (yes, there are ropes—so pun intended; suicide by hanging) scattered throughout the story. But when you get to the resolution…wait, what resolution? The story remains unresolved!!!
This is where I went crazy. So I finished it. I tied all the loose ends for you, and I’ll let you in on a secret. The story, really, is about a Dissociative Identity Disorder (Ishiguro himself had said that he has trouble explaining what exactly this story is about, so I took the liberty of figuring it out for him). The protagonist had such a traumatic experience that she disconnected herself from reality and in order to be able to move on with her life after the horrible deed she had committed, her brain transformed her into an observer of a “strange friend” whose actions remain hidden in the deepest crevices of the mind from which only vague memories occasionally manifest themselves.
So, below is my finishing of Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills. You are welcome, Mr. Ishiguro. :o)
Before you continue reading, you must read A Pale View of Hills in order to understand the following.
I feel Mother’s stare as I walk to the gate. I beg my steps to be swift and light, but they drag because of my suitcase. The suitcase itself isn’t heavy. It is what I found in Keiko’s room that makes it a burden to carry. Mother said she heard noises coming from my sister’s room last night. Had she gone in, she would have found me leafing through Keiko’s journal. It now weighs down my movements, my thoughts. I try to recall Keiko in my mind, but the images my memory conjures up are grey like the clouds of the afternoon.
The wind pushes Mother’s stare into my back. It burns as I imagine her eyes pierce the flesh between my shoulder blades and spread a dull pain that cuts through my spine. It slowly stretches forward like a clawed arm scraping at my stomach. I want to stop and bend over to vomit, but I can’t. Not while she is watching. I have to get away from her like Keiko did when she saw Mother on the river bank that night, with the rope in her hand. But I won’t make Keiko’s mistake. I won’t come back.
Mother’s eyes dig into my insides. They hurt. She hurts. The pain called Mother; the same pain that killed Keiko now tugs on my stomach, then extends its clawed arm, and pulls on my intestines. It twists them, but I contain myself and walk as if I don’t feel anything. I do not want Mother to find me weak, but I am startled when I realize that it has tied my insides into a noose. I give in and glance back. To my surprise I see the woman Keiko used to see. She smiles and waves. Why are you looking at me like that? She asks, then gives a short laugh. I’m not going to hurt you. She beckons toward the noose in my stomach. I quickly turn around. I won’t do what Keiko did.
The gray clouds spill. I lower my head and run toward the street corner, out of Mother’s sight. The railway station is only a few minutes away. I drag the suitcase filled with my sister’s memories behind me, away from Mother’s house, Keiko’s cell. The distance between Mother and me grows as fast and as steady as the rain. I finally arrive at the platform and wait for my train of thought to stop. Instead, it rushes in with a speed that tightens the noose inside me. Mother! I gulp for breath and with it, inhale the rain. I taste bitterness as the raindrops slither down the back of my throat. I cough, then immediately wonder about the amount of water that must have filled Keiko’s lungs as she fought off Mother on the river bank. Keiko, scratching Mother’s wrists bloody. Keiko, a frightened kitten held under the surface of the cold river by the same two hands that promised to caress and protect her. Keiko, trying to survive Mother.
The rain recedes and gives way to the sun which carves its way through the gray clouds. The trees behind the opposite platform cast long shadows on the muddy ground around me. I find some grass to kneel. My body aches, and Keiko’s memories are too heavy to hold. I set them gently next to me, sit on my heels, and press my torso tightly against my thighs. The noose inside my stomach constricts as if the raindrops that had slithered into my lungs became a snake, looping around my insides, squeezing them at Mother’s command. The pain shoots to my head. My hands dart up in an attempt to contain the splitting headache while my fingertips stroke the roots of my soaked hair. One drop, then another falls from a thin strand which hangs down one side of my face. I gasp. I have Mother’s hair!
* * * * *
The train is late. I lean against one of the pillars of the King’s Cross station and light a cigarette. Then another one. And another. Finally, through the smoke I see the shiny black engine approach the platform. The screeching of its wheels sends a shiver down my spine. I put out my cigarette and walk toward the train. My eyes search the crowd of people who are getting off, but I can’t find her. I turn in every direction while bumping into people with children, people with suitcases, people with newspapers in front of their faces. Pardon, I’m sorry, I apologize. Then I hear her voice somewhere behind me, “Delilah!”
I turn around only to halt the force with which she throws herself into my arms.
“Niki?” I peel her off me. “What happened?” I examine the short, uneven strands of her hair.
“I had Mother’s hair,” she pushes herself forward into my arms again.
“I don’t understand...”
“I flushed it down the train’s toilet. I don’t want anything of Mother’s.”
I can feel Niki’s hot tears slide into my ear as she presses her face against the side of mine.
She kisses me. “Let’s go home.”
I bend to pick up her suitcase, but she stops me.
“It’s quite heavy.”
“I’ll be fine,” I say and, to her surprise, lift the suitcase with little effort.
She slips her hand into mine.
I can’t help but think that Niki’s hair isn’t the only thing different about her. She looks pale and terrified, like a small child who hadn’t slept in days because if she closed her eyes, she’d dream of monsters.
As soon as we get home, Niki lights the fireplace. I light the stove.
“Why don’t you get out of those wet clothes? I’ll make tea,” I say.
“I brought you something,” she ignores what I’d said, opens her suitcase, and takes out her sweater. “Mother says she’s sure you’ll write a marvelous poem.”
“That’s kind of her.”
“It has to show what everything was like,” she hands the sweater to me.
I take it but give Niki a puzzled look. She points her chin at my hands which can now feel something hard inside the woolly fabric. I struggle for a moment with the knotted sleeves, but then I pull out a book.
“Open it,” Niki whispers and I oblige.
At first I don’t understand the childish handwriting, for the sentences don’t seem to make sense. They flow in one long continuous stream, without commas or periods, often two or three words are connected, only to be broken by sketches, which are beautiful but haunting. Sketches of kittens, trees with children hanging on to the branches, rivers splashing against their banks, tea cups with intricate designs, a woman. The same woman. Over and over again.
“It was Keiko’s. She never went to school. Most of the time she just drew...things.”
“Niki...” I exhale but don’t know what to say. Niki rarely speaks about her family. All she’s told me is that her mother would never approve of us. To her I’m David.
“I want you to title it Kaibutsu.”
“What does that mean?”
“Monster,” Niki says and leaves for the kitchen where the tea kettle whistles.