...with When We Were Orphans, Ishiguro appears to have found his synthesis, not only in its expansive yet finely modulated narrative but also in the way it bends the hallucinatory world of its immediate predecessor toward the surface verisimilitude of the butler's story ...seem like another deft postmodern exercise, a historical novel that's not concerned with the life of the past so much as with its literary assumptions. Yet Ishiguro stops just short of parody, and though he won't let his readers surrender to the genre, he doesn't condescend to it either ... The orphan's life is never fully his own, but seems instead as secondhand as the form of this novel itself, so brilliant in its tireless echoes of earlier texts. When We Were Orphans goes much farther than even The Remains of the Day in its examination of the roles we've had handed to us.
...in When We Were Orphans when Ishiguro allows his style to recede so that the story can take over, it sometimes feels like the Creamsicle has fallen off and you're left holding the stick ... Minor characters pop in and out of the story, dropping portentous hints that there's a great evil at play upon the world, with Shanghai as its nexus...things just keep getting queerer as the story goes on, until you start to wonder whether the world contained in the book is more fanciful than it seems...is less than a proper mystery because you couldn't have figured it out ahead of time, and it doesn't end with enough of a Kafkaesque, mythopoetic wallop to make the surprise worth wringing your hands over.
...there is a delicious Ishigurian irony to the possibility that the author concluded this all on his own, and decided that the answer lay in proactive plotting –– a scenario all the more believable given what a disastrous piece of advice this appears to have been. Presiding over this plot-driven narrative is the first-person narrator, Christopher Banks ... It is clear that part of Ishiguro’s mission here was to deconstruct the older and closure of classic detective stories, but that is no real consolation at the novel’s end, since it has been clear from the very beginning ...When We Were Orphans is a failure. Plot and suspense are sacrificed to the psychology of the main character precisely as the psychology of the other, not unimportant characters is sacrificed to ploy and suspense.