Wednesday, 24 January 2018

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore, False Lights & Sacred Lake. (

What we thought: Set in 1930’s London, we are introduced to world-famous Christopher Banks through a series of superbly crafted scenes which switch between the protagonist’s past and present lives. We meet his childhood friends, introduced to his latest love interest. We learn about his early days in London, and discover his latest criminal cases.

Intertwined throughout all of this rich scene setting, is the knowledge that a piece of the puzzle is missing, and for the reader that is like a delicious expectation of what is to come.

And when that arrives, the tone of the novel takes an abrupt change. Banks is determined to solve the one case that has so far eluded him, the one case that his whole career has been built on – the discovery of what happened to his parents who both went missing whilst living in the International Settlement in Shanghai before Banks's return to live with a distant relative in England.

Banks returns to Shanghai, to find the city greatly changed and in the midst of war. We follow the twists and turns of his journey as he struggles to solve the mystery in a city torn apart by conflict. It is gripping, emotive and for me this is Ishiguro at his stunning best.

I loved this novel, it is a masterclass in novel writing. From characters that spring from the page, either in bright, bold colour or subtle shaded greys. The tone is exquisite and the narrative as complex as it is entertaining. The landscape and settings – be it the greyness of London or the explosive reality of war torn Shanghai – are perfectly drawn and as real as opening your curtains on the world each day.

When you find a novel that touches a part of you, it’s with a certain sadness that you close the final page. I hope the next Ishiguro novel I read will have the same effect.

You’ll enjoy this if you like : Ali Smith, Robert Harris.

Avoid if you don’t like : War torn countries and childhood secrets.

Ideal accompaniments: Beef Wellington served with greens and a glass of Port.

Genre : Literary.

Available on Amazon

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