Friday, February 08, 2008

Kazuo Ishiguro: When We Were Orphans

I see these books, or they get passed on to me, and I just assume they will be good. I start reading them, I can tell they aren't good, and I just won't put them down. Kazuo Ishiguro has a great reputation. I read good reviews of his books all the time, this book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, he wrote "Remains of the Day," which was not just a movie, but an acclaimed book. All signs point to "When We Were Orphans" being a good book.

Signs were wrong. Always check with a real map (or reviewer). I thought this book was beyond mediocre. I thought it was worse than bad. It was a mystery, or detective fiction, whatever the genre would be, and I just didn't get it: poorly fleshed out characters, plot twists without a plot, and jumps in time which forced the whole story to be told in the past. The whole book felt contrived and artificial. The reader is supposed to follow the career of a detective without seeing him solve a case. Fat chance.

The only time I felt I could like the characters were the flashbacks to when the main character, detective Christopher Banks (aka "Puffin") was young and playing with his buddy Akira in Shanghai. Two foreigners in a strange land, the two kids had fun adventures in the backyard. Then Banks encounters someone he thinks is Akira 30 years later in Shanghai, and we're meant to be confused if this really is Akira or not. Well, that mystery isn't solved, and I was not satisfied. I'm further not satisfied with the main mystery's resolution, or really, with why we should care at all. Three hundred pages, and I never cared. Don't bother with this book, or better, explain to me why Ishiguro is so exciting.