After awarding him the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy described Kazuo Ishiguro as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”
This comment brings to mind Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go – shortlisted for that year’s Man Booker Prize. Set in a dystopian England, it tells the story of Kathy, a 31-year-old woman nearing the end of her life, who attempts to come to terms with her fate and her unconventional childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham boarding school with friends Ruth and Tommy.
We discover that all students at Hailsham are clones created with the sole purpose of eventually donating their organs, and that the ‘bliss’ of the school was constructed by a headmistress who aimed to give the clones a humane education in contrast to other institutions built for the same purpose.
Despite the sci-fi themes of the plot, the novel does not focus on details of genetic science. Instead, it concentrates on the changing relationships between the three main characters and is arguably better described as a thought-provoking and emotional ‘coming of age’ novel.
Ishiguro’s 1989 novel The Remains of the Day further showcases his ability create a complex world, illustrated with such deceptive simplicity that it is eerily similar to our own. The novel, which won the 1989 Man Booker Prize, tells the story of Stevens, a 1950s English butler who has dedicated his life to the loyal service of the recently deceased Lord Darlington. He receives a letter from a former colleague, housekeeper Miss Kenton, and after being encouraged by his new employer, the wealthy American Mr Farraday, to take a well-earned break, Stevens arranges to meet with Miss Kenton in Cornwall. The novel largely takes place in a series of flashbacks, slowly building a picture of Stevens’ lost opportunities – particularly with Miss Kenton – and focusing on dignity, social constraints, loyalty, and politics.
While I have always loved his work, it was not until I had the privilege of seeing Ishiguro interviewed at London’s Royal Festival Hall in July this year that he began to take his place as my favourite author. His modesty shone through when, despite all but two of his novels and short story collections being shortlisted for major awards, he complained of the ineffectiveness of his own methods of writing and praised Michael Ondaatje the other guest, for his organisation.
This same modesty was also reflected in his Nobel Lecture. He commented, “part of me feels like an imposter and part of me feels bad that I’ve got this before other living writers”, expressing his surprise at being named winner, even wondering if the announcement was a case of “fake news”.
Ishiguro’s blend of creative expertise and humility, when it comes to being praised for his extraordinary work, truly make him a remarkable individual.
Image: Frankie Fouganthin via Wikimedia Commons.