I have always found it difficult to reconcile Kazuo Ishiguro’s very Japanese name with his very English novels.
However, while Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan, he has lived in England since he was five, and is quite clear from his own words that, despite many references to the Japanese influences that critics perceive in his work, he regards himself as a purely English writer. I have to say that I, myself, perceive no Japanese influences whatsoever and consider “The Remains of the Day”, for example, to be one of the most quintessentially English (as in from England) books I’ve ever read. Or maybe it is that his butler, Stevens, seems to me a most English character.
While Ishiguro has been lauded as one of the foremost authors in the English language, he has not been a particularly prolific writer. His first book, A Pale View of Hills, was published in 1982, followed by An Artist of the Floating World (1986), The Remains of the Day (1989), The Unconsoled (1995), When We Were Orphans (200) and Never Let Me Go (2005). Each book, however, has been a small gem, and he won the Winifred Holdby Memorial Prize for his first novel and the Whitbread Prize for his second novel. Four of his books were nominated for the Booker Prize, his third novel winning it. In 1995 he was appointed OBE for services to literature.
The Remains of the Day was made into a beautiful film, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. This film was nominated for eight academy awards. While the script was not entirely faithful to the novel, I certainly felt that the intent of the adaptation and of the actors was authentic to the characters drawn by Ishiguro.
Never Let Me Go has also been made into a critically acclaimed, although not mainstream, film, which was released in 2010.
What I find very interesting about Ishiguro’s writing is how each book is quite different from the others. They are set in different eras and places and are located in differing genres. His most recent book, Never Let Me Go, is quite fascinating in that it is set in Britain in the 1980s and ‘90s and yet is located in a parallel environment. This gives it a futuristic feel and one might term it science fiction. Much is taken as given, and we are not fully apprised of every detail and so are left to draw our own conclusions. The reader is put in a similar position in The Unconsoled, which is set in an unnamed Central European city.
When We Were Orphans could be characterised as a detective novel. Despite the fact that Ishiguro himself has said “It’s not my best book”, the book was still nominated for a Man Booker Prize. Set between Shanghai and England in the early 1900s the book has moments of brilliance although it does not, in my opinion, quite make it as a detective story or a period piece.
When I read The Unconsoled I have to admit that I was somewhat taken aback. I didn’t really get it, and I wasn’t alone. One literary critic said about it that it had “invented its own category of badness”, but many others have placed it high on their lists of favourite books. The story takes place over a three-day period and centres around a pianist who arrives in an unnamed city in Central Europe to perform. He has, however, apparently lost much of his memory and thus experiences his surroundings as unreal and dreamlike.
What is similar about all Ishiguro’s books is that they are written in the first-person narrative voice. While telling us their story, the narrators “unwittingly” reveal their flaws and their foibles. The reader becomes closely identified with the narrator and a strong sense of pathos is created as we so intimately watch the narrator taking action or, as is often the case, not taking action that we can so clearly see they should. There is never a clear sense of resolution at the end of the book, and one is left with a sense of sadness and a sense of something wasted. Nevertheless, the books are haunting and live on in the reader’s mind long after they have been put down.