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Ishiguro, Kazuo

Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(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, beginning with perhaps the most ambitious of these, The Unconsoled (1995), the protagonist of which 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 of the tale as 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 (see Horror in SF). An example of the misprision this novel has been subjected to can be found in comments by the usually supple critic Frank Kermode (1919-2010) in "Outrageous Game" (20 April 2005 London Review of Books), where her narrative is described as "chatty" and the book consequently as a failure.

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]. In Klara and the Sun (2021), which is sf, an AI-for-sale known as an Artificial Friend attempts to understand her potential purchasers, and hence Homo sapiens at large, in a world facing self-devastation. The Buried Giant is a dragon; but is clearly more than a dragon. But although cultural and historical meanings can be extracted, Ishiguro hauntingly eschews any allegorical lockdown.

Klara and the Sun (2021), which is sf, comprises the reflective memories of an AI-powered "robot" (more properly Android) known as an Artificial Friend, who is blessed or afflicted with programming that induces in her mind patterns of sacrificial or redemptive love for the girl to whom she has been sold as a companion and monitor. At the fringes of her understanding as here expressed – her cognitive facilities may have been impaired through a loving sacrifice she has made to the Sun – can be perceived a lightly populated Dystopian world, almost certainly devastated by Climate Change, where normal children are "lifted" through an unexplained process of "genetic editing". Klara, who cannot smell or taste, understands this world partly through eavesdropping though primarily via lines of sight, though her visual capacities are frequently overwhelmed (see Perception) when what she sees is too complex or too moving: at which points the world fractures into cubist fragments: each a "reading" of the world beyond her. Like most Ishiguro protagonists, she could be described as living in Prison; her ultimate fate is to be dismantled.

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

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