Ishiguro, Kazuo

Tagged: Author

(1954-    ) Japanese-born author in the UK since 1960, his first work being three stories, all ostensibly nonfantastic, for Invitation 7: Stories by New Writers (anth 1981) edited anonymously. He soon became known as a novelist of fictions only superficially obedient to the strictures against the fantastic maintained (in the twentieth century) by an insecure British literary establishment: indeed, since the publication of his most famous tale, The Remains of the Day (1989), none of his subsequent novels has adhered to traditional canons of realism. The protagonist of perhaps the most ambitious of these, The Unconsoled (1995), visits an unnamed Central European City whose contours are an ominous echolalia of his interior state, evoking Franz Kafka in the dreamlike recursions and seeming distractions that mark its narrator's seemingly no-exit hegira through his world [for Arabian Nightmare see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. A reading a of the tale being as relentlessly literal as Kafka himself (see Fantastika) may generate a sense – as the cover of the UK edition clearly hints – that the protagonist is somehow in control of his exfoliating encounters: that he is like the Secret Master who controls the moves of the passive-aggressive cast across an immense Board Game: though, unlike the protagonist of Groundhog Day (1993), he does not in the end awaken to save himself. When We Were Orphans (2000) presents a not-dissimilar search for meaning in terms increasingly surreal, within the frame of an assumption that when the protagonist solves his past the world of the future will be saved. The narrator's bewildered passage through wartorn Shanghai in 1937 as the Japanese invade – a significant early moment in a genuinely planetary description of the extent and reach of World War Two – savagely echoes similar dislocated and dislocating moments in the previous novel.

Never Let Me Go (2005) is set in an Alternate History 1990s England, where Clones – like the narrator herself – are bred as organ donors (see Organlegging) in cod-rural enclaves (see Keeps); it was filmed as Never Let Me Go (2010). Ishiguro's subtle sf narrative may not articulate but does nothing to disguise the ultimate savagery of the world he depicts, a Dystopia which, constructed as it is on the unstated but pervasive assumption that some lives are more valuable than others, may be difficult at times to distinguish from ours; indeed, so deadly quiet is the tale it is possible to miss the fact that its narrator, who describes her life in retrospect, has understood her fate from the very beginning, and that her seeming recessiveness is a shield against terror. The Buried Giant (2015) is also conducted in a narrative voice of uncanny calm (it is at least in part the voice of a chthonic boatman, who ferries humans across a dark river; unusually for Ishiguro, there is no ostensible first-person narrator), and movingly describes the quest of an old married couple for their lost child through a Britain haunted by an imposed and traumatic Amnesia, amidst the fog of which revived ogres and doomed caricature knights drift through the vastated aftermath of Camelot [for Arthur, Gawain, Matter and Myth of Origin again see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below].

Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017; his acceptance speech, published as My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs: Nobel Lecture Delivered in Stockholm on 7 December 2017 (2017 chap), ends with a characteristically unexaggerated plea that writers address the future, without obeying generic shibboleths or established criteria as to what constitutes "good literature". He was knighted in 2018. [JC]

Kazuo Ishiguro

born Nagasaki, Japan: 8 November 1954


works (selected)



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