I read a set of books by David Peace a few months ago – Tokyo Year Zero and Occupied City. Both set in Japan in the post war period. Both were clearly well researched, by someone who is sympathetic to and at least tries to understand the Japanese experience of that era. Although David Peace is British, he has lived in Tokyo for years and certainly did not seem to be ‘using’ the setting with consideration. On the other hand, both books felt like writing exercises: the first a detective novel with traumatic flashes of memory and a twist; the second a book with many characters and sources providing their own take on events, each written in a unique style. It all got a bit much in the end. I actually laughed at John Crace’s Digested Read for once.
An Artist Of The Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro isn’t like that at all. Ishiguro moved from Japan to Britain when he was five, so he probably has similar reference points, but approached in a different direction. Here, a retired artist deals with the consequences of his role in Japanese militarism. The story feels like it has a greater purpose – there is style here: subdued tone, delicate description, unreliable narration (?) – but the theme of faxing up to misguided ideals is a strong one. Perhaps though, Ishiguro plays things on the safe side: he raises questions and poses multiple answers but doesn’t come down one way or another.
I’m happy enough to have read David Peace and he has a third coming out next year, which I may read; but I’d be unlikely to return to them. Ishiguro, I enjoyed and I’d happily read again.