Kazuo Ishiguro is master of the naïve narrator, a technique by which the reader infers reality through a narrator’s obvious foibles. The eponymous artist, Masuji Ono, is a retired painter whose skill and nationalism were in favour prior to the China Crisis and Second World War to the extent that he was granted permission to buy a house despite not being the highest financial bidder. He won the auction on prestige, the sort of quaint Japanese custom that came to be challenged when American occupation smothered Japan in the values of capitalism and individualism. In old age, Ono attempts to persuade his grandson to aspire to the skill and dedication expected of a samurai, but the young boy is too drawn by cowboy games and cartoons of Popeye the Sailor. Ono notes that many of his generation are taking honourable and apologetic ways out of the world in which they are trapped and seen as liabilities, but he is himself too proud and cowardly to do likewise. As his prestige evaporates in the new Japan, Ono has to negotiate marriage terms for his second daughter. The process uncovers secrets he has been trying to hide, painfully revealing the self-deception he has built up about, around and within himself. This is an exquisite portrait of character and time.
An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro Faber, 206 pp, £9.95, February 1986, ISBN 0 571 13608 7