Kazuo Ishiguro is no stranger to my library– I have read Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day. So, I was looking forward to When We Were Orphans, loosely categorized as a detective novel. This novel is written in the same vein as the aforementioned books, with an almost ephemeral, dreamy tone, but at the same time, it avoids extensive intangible imagery and has a beautiful and classically structured plot. In my previous review, I mentioned Mr. Ishiguro’s ability to naturally bring the climax into focus, almost without the reader realizing it. However, in When We Were Orphans, the climax comes hard and fast and it is a monumental peak to climb, despite whatever warming-up there is. The lead-up is spiced with improbabilities, with the last one causing me to raise an eyebrow– it certainly moves the plot around, but for a writer who creates an aura of realism, it was a tad hard to believe. Moreover, the whole novel felt rather timeless; it could occur in the 2000s; if I were not familiar with Shanghai– the setting of the novel for the second half– I probably would not blink an eye. In some novels, timelessness is a good thing, but here, as a reviewer from The Guardian said, the lack of ‘local color’ renders When We Were Orphans rather bland and does not support or add to the characters and their stories, making the novel decidedly less compelling.
Verdict: Mr. Ishiguro is a master craftsman, so despite some disappointments (even Mr. Ishiguro has admitted this is not his strongest book), this novel is still passable to read. However, I would read The Remains of the Day first, if you have not done so.