New Delhi: If you’re the betting type, you may have put money on hearing a Japanese name announced today as winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Unless you like very long odds, however, you won’t have chosen Kazuo Ishiguro – the author of seven novels, whose muted style and diffident narrators draw less on Japanese than on typically English manners.
Ishiguro, the Swedish Academy said today, “in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.
Ishiguro was born in 1954 in Nagasaki, but migrated with his family to Surrey when he was a child. His first two novels – A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World – dealt with the lives of Japanese after the war, their memory at odds with their private efforts at rehabilitation.
It was after his third novel, The Remains of the Day, which won the Booker Prize in 1989, that Ishiguro worked his way into the canon of modern British writing. The book is narrated through the diary of a butler in charge of a declining household: Ishiguro famously claimed to have written it in a four-week ‘crash’.
His subsequent novels were The Unconsoled, When We Were Orphans, the multiple prize-winning dystopia Never Let Me Go, and the most recent, a medieval fantasy, The Buried Giant.
These later novels have received mixed responses, often within the same review. Amit Chaudhuri wrote about The Unconsoled, “it is a failure, and failure usually implies the presence of artistic vision and talent.”
“It’s remarkable that such a dedicated whisperer has survived and prospered in our shouty times,” wrote Adam Mars-Jones, reviewing The Buried Giant in 2015. “Still, very ordinary things can be said in a whisper.”
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 5, 2017
“I would say that if you mix Jane Austen and Kafka, you have Ishiguro in the making. You also have to add a little bit of Proust, and mix – but not too much,” Swedish Academy permanent secretary Sara Danius said after the announcement. “He’s very interested in understanding the past, but he’s not out to redeem the past. He’s exploring what you have to forget to survive in the first place – as an individual and as a society.”
Ishiguro has also been involved in writing screenplays, teleplays and lyrics. Most recently, he composed lyrics for jazz singer Stacey Kent for their collaborative CD Breakfast on the Morning Tram.
“I’m only 50 but I certainly feel time is running out for me in an urgent sense. I never forget that Pride and Prejudice was written by someone several years younger than Zadie Smith. War and Peace was written by someone who would easily qualify for the Best of Young Russian Novelists. It is not that I will not be alive soon – hopefully – but I realise my abilities might not be there beyond a certain age, and I might become like one of these novelists who are treated respectfully for work they did when they were much younger. I don’t look forward to that,” Ishiguro told The Guardian in 2005.