Keeping It Real

Kazuo Ishiguro breaks realism's rules.
photo: Emily Mott
Kazuo Ishiguro breaks realism's rules.


When We Were Orphans
By Kazuo Ishiguro
Knopf, 336 pp., $25
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Given the sustained brilliance of The Unconsoled, why is this final section such a letdown? Because, unlike in Ishiguro's masterpiece, here realism's rules are broken to resolve each and every narrative thread with a "surprise" revelation rather than to complicate the novel's staged reality. It's one thing to create a fictional world with a skewed sense of logic, and quite another to change a novel's guiding force midstream. Banks is just-about-human one moment and shadow the next; his investigation is emptied of significance and becomes a novelist's lark, or something else: a failed experiment. This kind of shallow trickery, while common enough these days, is beneath the author of The Unconsoled, and one hopes that Ishiguro, with his next novel, will return to making an art that is stranger—and truer—than mere fiction.

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