Top critical review
Ishiguro's worst book is still better than many popular authors' best
Reviewed in the United States on January 8, 2016
Ishiguro is always challenging. What is he really saying, where is the story is really philosophically taking place, which of his characters' memories of the same event can we trust? Sometimes, as with The Giant, I'm too frustrated to carry on long enough to figure it out. Other times, as with Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, I'm so mesmerized that I skip meals to finish it, and end up with a holistic watercolor understanding that is imperfect and still utterly satisfying. Ishiguro admitted that WWWO isn't his best book, possibly because it seems to have a bit of an identity crisis about what kind of a book it wants to be, with a side-tracked approach to a very cut and dry conclusion. It's still good. It's still Ishiguro. It's like if Beethoven said the 3rd Symphony wasn't his best symphony. Snort. Okay.
WWWO summary: An English boy living in Shanghai in the early 1900s with his mother and father, who works for an import company, is suddenly orphaned. He spends his childhood in boarding school and vows at a young age to be a detective so that in adulthood he can finally discover what happened to his parents. Moving steadily upward in British society he indeed becomes a celebrated detective, returns to Shanghai intent on solving the case, and eventually does solve the mystery. Themes are idealism vs. disillusion, loyalty, and as always, memory, childhood, and self perception.
Having started WWWO a year ago and given up on the opening's colorless British milieu, I have been rewarded by picking it up again and following it through the alleys of Shanghai, through the meaningless chaos of war, to a final, crystal clear conclusion. In the end Ishiguro put all of the cards on the table and wrapped things up nicely. I liked it. I agreed with it. I guess I prefer the more gutteral, confusing, urgent impact of his other work. It's like seeing Degas' ballet dancers and wanting Soutine's Carcass of Beef. The ballet dancers are nice. The Carcass forces you to stop and figure out what it is you're reacting to. In the end this isn't my favorite, but you can't say the ballet dancers aren't lovely.