The novel is about Etsuko, a Japanese woman living alone in England. In the not-too-distant past, her daughter Keiko has committed suicide by hanging herself. Her other daughter, Niki, who lives in London, has come for a visit and their relationship is distant and strained.
Much of the novel, however, is told in fragments of flashbacks to the time when Etsuko was first pregnant in Nagasaki, and made the acquaintance of an odd neighbor, Sachiko, and her even odder daughter, Mariko.
For much of the book, I was bored, putting it down and picking it up without any enthusiasm. But then quite abruptly the last couple of chapters throw the whole world into chaos. If you’ve read this, I need your help piecing it together, please.
Is Etsuko really Sachiko? Toward the end she speaks with Mariko as if she were, in fact, her mother and about to take her to America. Does that make Keiko Mariko? The appearance of ropes and the premonition of a girl hanging make this plausible if the narrator’s mentally ill and her narrative is confused.
Or perhaps even more bizarre a possibility, is Etsuko the child murderer who has been keeping Nagasaki in a panic? Which means the girl hanging in her vision might actually have been Mariko. Several times Mariko seems genuinely frightened of Etsuko, who otherwise seems as non-frightening as one can be. But when Etsuko finds her late at night and Mariko keeps asking her why she has a rope, it certainly raises the possibility.
Did Keiko (Mariko?) actually kill herself, or was she murdered by Etsuko / Sachiko? This is one of those books where the author has left so much unclear that we can never know with certainty. This won’t be a favorite of mine, but it’s an interesting beginning for my long-term tour of all of Ishiguro’s novels.