A Pale View of Hills

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber, 1982)

Introduced by by Emma Balch 

A Pale View of Hills is the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017. The novel was published when Ishiguro was 27 years old.

In a long interview in The Paris Review, he explains how he came to write this story and get published:

“After university, when I was working with homeless people in west London, I wrote a half-hour radio play and sent it to the BBC. It was rejected but I got an encouraging response. It was kind of in bad taste, but it’s the first piece of juvenilia I wouldn’t mind other people seeing. It was called ‘Potatoes and Lovers’. When I submitted the manuscript, I spelled potatoes incorrectly, so it said potatos. It was about two young people who work in a fish-and-chips café. They are both severely cross-eyed, and they fall in love with each other, but they never acknowledge the fact that they’re cross-eyed. It’s the unspoken thing between them. At the end of the story they decide not to marry, after the narrator has a strange dream where he sees a family coming toward him on the seaside pier. The parents are cross-eyed, the children are cross-eyed, the dog is cross-eyed, and he says, All right, we’re not going to marry.”

Almost by accident, he came across a little ad for a creative writing MA taught by Malcolm Bradbury at the University of East Anglia. ‘Today it’s a famous course, but in those days it was a laughable idea, alarmingly American. I discovered subsequently that it hadn’t run the previous year because not enough people had applied. Somebody told me Ian McEwan had done it a decade before. I thought he was the most exciting young writer around at that point. But the primary attraction was that I could go back to university for a year, fully funded by the government, and at the end I would only have to submit a thirty-page work of fiction. I sent the radio play to Malcolm Bradbury along with my application.”

Slightly taken aback when he was accepted, Ishiguro booked in to a former rehab centre in Cornwall to “teach myself to write”. He spent the summer of 1979 in the middle of nowhere in Cornwall thinking about the structure, form and craft of a short story. By the end of the summer he had completed two short stories.

“I discovered that my imagination came alive when I moved away from the immediate world around me.” So he began writing about his birth country, Japan, and found his fellow classmates at UEA responded enthusiastically.

“Then I got a letter from Faber accepting three stories for their Introduction series, which had an excellent track record. I knew that Tom Stoppard and Ted Hughes had been discovered like this.”

But it was a commission from Robert McCrum, then fiction editor at Faber & Faber that gave him a £1000 advance that enabled him to develop a short story into a novel.

A Pale View of Hills started life as a story set in Cornwall, until ‘I realised that if I told this story in terms of Japan, everything that looked parochial and small would reverberate.

He won the 1982 Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize for the novel. 


Cover of the First Edition (UK)

The first review of The Pale View of the Hills appeared in the New York Times:

A Pale View of Hills is the story of Etsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman living alone in England, and opens with discussion between Etsuko and her younger daughter, Niki, about the recent suicide of Etsuko’s older daughter, Keiko.

“A delicate, ironic, elliptical novel, A Pale View of Hills means much more than it says … The story, following its narrator’s memory, begins after the bombing of Nagasaki, but that event lies at its center. Barely touched upon, mentioned only by innuendo, the destruction of Nagasaki appears as a vacuum defined only by the misplaced lives and the disjointed modes of survival which derive from it. But in this book, where what is stated is often less important than what is left unsaid, those blanked-out days around the bomb’s explosion become the paradigm of modern life. They are the ultimate example of qualities which the novel celebrates: the brilliance of our negative invention, and our infinite talent for living beyond annihilation as if we had forgotten it.

A Pale View of Hills is Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel. Its characters, whose bursts of self-knowledge and honesty erase their inspired self-deceptions only briefly, are remarkably convincing. It is filled with surprise and written with considerable charm. But what one remembers is its balance, halfway between elegy and irony.”

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Read more first reviews of books by Kazuo Ishiguro on Lit Hub:


Read the full interview from The Paris Review here:


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