Monday, September 05, 2016

The Search For A Lost Childhood

Somehow I didn't get around to reading Kazuo Ishiguro's 'When We Were Orphans' years ago. Found the book with yellowed pages nestled at the back of the shelves at home. This 'detective story' is a deviation of his usual genre and even though it was shortlisted for the 2000 Man Booker Prize, it has been widely considered as the author's weakest work. (Old reviews here, here and here.)

Flawed protagonist Christopher Banks is a private eye in 1930s England, fashionably solving all manner of gruesome crimes. He's more a Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey's Sherlock than any resemblance to Sir Conan Doyle's version. He's haunted by his past, a childhood in Shanghai when his father was complicit in importing opium and his mother violently campaigned against it. He only knew his parents disappeared after crossing Shanghai warlord Wang Ku. But were his childhood memories real? He wanted to find out the truth and held on to the belief that his parents are somehow still alive. In this story 30 years later, as an adult, he returns to a Shanghai in the middle of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Drama ensued. A Google search will give you the plot and the various characters involved. At the end, we learn that Christopher's mother Diana is alive in 1958, at a nursing home in Hong Kong, but with memory loss likely from Alzheimer's or trauma, even forgetting who Christopher is, but remembering his childhood nickname Puffin. Her memories of her son have been frozen of him as a child. To my surprise, I don't dislike the story or how it is written. Kazuo Ishiguro writes formally and poetically. He doesn't use phrasal verbs, preferring to use more cumbersome but lovely long forms. I enjoy that. It's comforting to read a book that doesn't engage in a conversational language modern detective novels use today. I have had enough of reading books that are written in the vague hope of being adapted to film.

'It might seem foolish to you,' I said to Jennifer when we were discussing the trip again last month, 'but it was only when she said that, it was only then I realised. What I mean is, I realised she'd never ceased to love me, not through any of it. All she'd ever wanted was for me to have a good life. And all the rest of it, all my trying to find her, trying to save the world from ruin, that wouldn't have made any difference either way. Her feelings for me, they were always just there, they didn't depend on anything. I suppose that might not seem so very surprising. But it took me all that time to realise it.'

No comments: