Posted on October 10, 2017
Kazuo Ishiguro in three of his novels
Last week we found out that Kazuo Ishiguro has won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature. Ishiguro was born in Japan, but his family moved to the UK when he was five, making him the latest British writer to win the prize since Doris Lessing in 2007. The Nobel committee described Ishiguro as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”. Ishiguro himself described the win as “flabbergastingly flattering”. (Gosh, you can tell he’s a writer!)
I’ve read three of Ishiguro’s novels and I have found him a little hit and miss (although certainly more hit than miss). Here is my experience with Ishiguro, in three of his novels:
The Remains of the Day
The first Ishiguro book I ever read, and probably the most famous of his works, The Remains of the Day is a fantastic way to get acquainted with Ishiguro’s calm, detached style. This novel is narrated from the perspective of Stevens, an English butler in the service of an American, Mr Farraday. Stevens looks back on his previous employment with Lord Darlington and remembers his relationship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. Strong themes of propriety and self-sacrifice run throughout the novel, and Ishiguro’s steady tone fits perfectly with the personal restraint Stevens must show in his role as butler. This book just flows through you; it’s a quiet heartbreaker.
If The Remains of the Day will break your heart, Never Let Me Go will destroy it. This is the story of Tommy, Kathy and Ruth, three students at a school called Hailsham which, it turns out, isn’t your usual kind of school. The students here are being raised for a very special purpose (which I won’t spoil, in case you don’t know it), and their troubles and relationships are played out against the backdrop of this inevitable future. This could be my favourite Ishiguro novel because it has an element of science-fiction in it, but also because, once again, Ishiguro writes in a gentle, removed manner that contrasts beautifully with the tumult of emotions being portrayed. Andrew Garfield, who played Tommy in the movie adaptation, summed it up perfectly: “It’s like [Ishiguro] stabs you in the heart, but you don’t realise it till four days later.”
This is the last Ishiguro book I read, in 2014, and I didn’t love it. That may explain why I haven’t picked up another of his books since then. Floating World is about an artist, Masuji Ono, in 20th century Japan. He looks back on his childhood, his artistic tuition, his lauded career and the chaos of the Second World War. The story of Floating World didn’t really grab me (just a few years later, I can barely remember anything about it) and none of the characters have stuck in my mind. Like the floating world of the title (which is the transient world of nighttime pleasures), this book drifted past me in a haze.
It’s been three years, and that means it’s probably time I read Ishiguro again. I have The Unconsoled and When We Were Orphans on my shelves, and I’ve just reserved Nocturnes, his collection of short stories, at my local library. Past experience teaches me that I’m going to have to prepare my heart for another gentle attack, but I think it’ll be worth it. I’m delighted that the Nobel Prize went to an author I know and like, and that it has pushed him back to the top of my to-read pile.
Have you read Ishiguro? What do you think about his Nobel Prize win? Let me know with a comment down below!
Ishiguro image credit: Mariusz Kubik, http://www.mariuszkubik.pl – own work, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Kmarius, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=862803