this floating world: Ishiguro and the perfect (pony) outline

Last month I sat in a cafe in Yackandandah and read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize speech. He talked about certain moments in his life when his own work needed to grow and how certain works influenced his own. In bed, feverish with flu, he read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Ishiguro loved the telling of interior thoughts and how Proust led one episode into the next not following the ‘usual demands of chronology’ and how freeing this approach seemed.

The past few weeks I’ve been reading Ishiguro’s early work. His first novel, A Pale View of Hills, beguiled me with its beautiful deceptively simple prose (and an image of kittens that will stay with me). His second, An Artist of The Floating World, unfolded its Proustian way to perfection, a wandering of thought, a gentle pulling back to the present, over and over and over. His third, The Remains of the Day, pulled me into the drawing room of Darlington Hall as though I were on staff. Ishiguro’s style is steady, almost meditative, and I found myself having to read his work slowly, for it felt disrespectful to approach it in any other way, that the act of reading became a ceremony in itself.

When Ishiguro had finished writing The Remains of the Day there was a niggling feeling that something was still missing. He had the butler ‘maintaining his emotional defences to the end.’ Was this right? Then Ishiguro happened to listen to Tom Waite’s Ruby’s Arms and found his answer in the music. There is nothing unusual as it starts but then, in Waite’s gruff voice, he tells us his heart is breaking. ‘The moment is unbearably moving because of the tension between the sentiment itself and the huge resistance that’s obviously been overcome to declare it.‘ Ishiguro realised he had to allow the butler’s armour to crack at the right moment near the end, to show us glimpses of that ‘tragic yearning.’

I remember as I drove home through the Kiewa Valley that day after reading Ishiguro’s speech, I listened to all the different covers of Ruby’s Child. I knew what he meant. I teared up. I cried for a butler I didn’t yet know. Heck, was he in for an emotional battering. As I read the final pages of that novel, I could hear the music pushing through, the gravelly voice, the heartbreak. Oh you poor poor stupid, stubborn, arrogant man who served his master at the cost of all else, but oh so achingly, perceptively, honestly portrayed. Ishiguro: your words broke me.


Like Proust for Ishiguro, in the world of pones it’s been Lightwood for me, pushing me into places I had yet to consider, wanting to grow as a pony person.

More and more I long to leave the arena. To not always be chasing the perfect outline. I want to step on a log to get back on. I want to duck a low lying branch. I want the outside world of the unexpected (as though enough things don’t already happen in the arena!).

The paddock is full of Proustian moments, the grass almost as long as his sentences. One episode leading into the next, the randomness of reactions, the stream of consciousness thoughts, thumb as the highest point, heels down, look at the afternoon light through the leaves, oh the saddle has slipped, stop, up a hole, the grasses tickling Tiffany’s tummy for I can’t see it on Aoibheann, wondering if she’s going to rush coming at the gate, ready for a half-halt, the butterflies fluttering around us, inside us, oh a canter up the hill, suggests Gill, yes please!

I’m back in the arena. A lesson with Amber. Aoibheann is distracted by her mate Tiffany far off in the other paddock. Aoibheann neighs out to her, almost panic stricken, head up, eyes popping, and her entire body vibrates which, of course, unnerves me. We work through it. I bring her back to the moment, back to me. I squeeze her sides and we move forward. ‘She’s quite long at the moment, can you feel that?’ says Amber. I collect her more, bring her into a nicer outline and we trot on the circle. One two. One two. One two. I can feel the muscles in my legs, the balls of my feet pressing into the stirrup. A little give on the inside rein, and then magic happens, for a few strides, just for a few moments everything comes together and the world slows down in the repetitiveness of our movement and it’s like we’re floating along through the air, both of us, effortless and heartbreakingly beautiful. Just like reading Ishiguro.

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