OK, I finished A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro last night, and am completely disturbed. I need to talk about it. If you haven't read this book and plan to in the future, click away, click away. This post will be full of spoilers. If you have read the book, please chip in.
I started to provide a plot summary, but stopped because I'm really directing this at people who have read the novel. You can find one here. What I want to talk about are the two main interpretations of the novel. There are more than two ways to read A Pale View of Hills, but these are the two basic branches, I think, with variations.
Interpretation 1: Etsuko is Sachiko; Keiko is Mariko. Etsuko is unwilling to accept her past behavior (Sachiko is a terrible mother and frequently leaves her daughter alone for hours at a time, allowing her to wander around by herself even though there has been a spate of child murders in the area; she also hasn't enrolled Mariko in school, and plans to take the child against her will to America with her boyfriend, whom Mariko hates), so she invents a "friend" to project her disapproval onto. This explains the parallels in Etsuko's and Sachiko's lives: Both leave Japan with a daughter for an English-speaking country (though in fact it's unclear in the novel whether Etsuko ever makes it to America). Mariko is a lonely, unhappy child who doesn't want to leave Japan; Keiko is described similarly and never adjusts to life in England, hence her withdrawal and eventual suicide. As far as I can tell, this is the more common interpretation of the novel.
Interpretation 2: Etsuko is the child murderer. She murders Mariko, among other children, but has blocked it out. Her method is hanging, which calls into question whether Keiko in fact committed suicide or was murdered.
I favor the second interpretation, for these reasons: Etsuko repeatedly expresses concern for Mariko's whereabouts and well-being. The child is wont to run off, and Etsuko goes out looking for her on several occassions, though Sachiko always says there is nothing to worry about. On one occasion, she has gotten a rope caught around her ankle when she finds Mariko, and Mariko appears afraid of her. Later, in the crucial scene where Etsuko finds her by the river and speaks to her as though she were Sachiko (saying, "If you don't like it in America, we can come back" -- leading many readers to believe that Etsuko is Sachiko), she is again suddenly holding a rope. The child asks why she is holding it, and she says again that it just got caught around her ankle, and that she's not going to hurt the child. In the memory, Mariko runs away, but in Interpretation 2, Etsuko in fact kills the child. This explains her premonition earlier that day, and her recurring dreams, in England, of a little girl "swinging" (not on a swing, but by a rope). Etsuko has merely confused Mariko with her own daughter Keiko, since she would later have a similar conversation, convincing her to move to England. The stuff about the child murders and the rope doesn't make sense if Mariko is Keiko, because Keiko doesn't die until much later.
A third interpretation, I suppose, is that Etsuko is both the child murderer and Sachiko, and that she killed her first daughter and had another while still in Japan. Or, in a fourth version, she is both the child murderer and Sachiko, but doesn't succeed in killing Mariko/Keiko, although she has killed other children in the past. Or, fifth, she is not the murderer at large, but she does have a "killer inside" and considers killing Mariko/Keiko, but does not succeed, in which case the vision of Mariko hanging is more of a wish than a memory, though in fact she does hang herself many years later.
Also entirely possible: The story is intentionally ambiguous, all interpretations being valid.
For those who have read it, what do you think?