When We Were Orphans ~ by Kazuo Ishiguro x2

Ahhhh… fine read.  It’s a reread so there are definitely spoilers in this review but I first read it almost 20 years ago and so it was kind of new to me.  I love rereading good books and although this may be one of Ishiguro’s weaker novels,  he’s still a Nobel winner and very good even when he’s “weak,”  (And I he’s written other novels I consider to be “weaker.” –  lol)

And it was lovely how the tale unfolded for me – I remembered things as I came across them,  the characters or incidents or evidence of Christopher’s nature.  And things I’d missed in my prior reading –  or was confused about – or forgot were revealed.  It’s beautifully read by John Lee who is a favorite anyway.

Almost from the start I see now where the nature of memory in general and Christoper’s immaturity in particular have led to a kind of naive unreliability in him which progresses into something else.  This naiveté starts in Chapter 1 where Christoper doesn’t realize how his desire to be a detective is known to his classmates and then again later, in his early 20s probably but in the same chapter, when he tells an elderly new acquaintance is greeted with how idealistic and typical of young men to want to “root out … the evil in the world.”    Christopher may have stopped maturing when he was moved from Shanghai to England at age about 12.

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*******
When We Were Ofphans
by Kazuo Ishiguro
2000 / 352 pages
read by John Lee – 10h 53m
rating:
(both read and listened)
*******

Christopher did succeed at becoming a noted detective and attracted the attention of the snobbish Sarah Hemmings.

But he is an unusual guy,  perhaps a bit on the Asperger side of a spectrum.  And he is definitely an “unreliable narrator” – or becomes one.

Many readers are annoyed with unreliable narrators and I can understand that idea as it would seem they have been overused in contemporary fiction and the early ones were either liars or part of a trick on the part of the author.  But those were the characters whose true nature was only revealed at the ending.

These days they’re rather interesting in the permutations authors come up with and the category includes such old and renowned characters as Benji in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye and even Nick in The Great Gatsby.  

Ways the characters might be unreliable include naiveté or inebriation or mental or emotional capability to say nothing of pure deviousness.   There are those who say that all 1st person narrators are unreliable,  but I think that’s carrying it too far because if you start reading Sherlock Holmes with the idea that Watson is not reliable you will get way off the track.  But yes,  of course all 1st person narrators have their own points of view and limited awareness.  Still, there are all sorts of variations on this general idea and that intrigues me.

Another thing Ishiguro does to heighen the suspense and surprise the reader is scramble the sequence of the story by using what I’ll call “catch-ups.”

I should say here a this point I had run into her a further three times since the night at Lucky Chance House.  On two of these occasions, we had seen each other only fleetingly in the presence of others, and little had passed between us.  On the third occasion too – the night of the dinner at the home of Mr Keswick, the chairman of Jardine Matheson – I suppose we were again in a public place, and exchanged barely a word; yet, with hindsight, our encounter there could well be viewed as some sort of important turning point.”  And  then Christoper proceeds to tell us what happened at Mr Keswick’s home!   So that explains why Sarah and Christoper are on good terms but it does beg the question of what else Christopher has not told us.

Christopher Banks, our 1st person in When We Were Orphans,  tells us openly that his memory might be faulty, but he seems to have great sensitivity and  insight into the feelings of others.  But he’s nowhere near omniscient, he’s a young boy, about 12 years old,  when his parents were having their troubles, and they didn’t tell him much before they disappeared – were kidnapped.  He was sent to England to live with an aunt while going to school, and eventually became a noted detective almost Sherlock Holmes-like. But the reality was,  his naiveté about his parents stayed with him and he never grew up emotionally.

Bloody Monday was really Bloody Saturday in China: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Saturday_(photograph)

analysis:  https://brooklynrail.org/2001/05/books/fatal-ambition

Criticism:  https://www.academia.edu/11642274/Memory_Authenticity_and_the_Unreliable_Narrator_in_Kazuo_Ishiguro_s_novel_When_We_Were_Orphans_Alfred_A._Knopf_New_York_2000_

Warlight –