Congratulations to Kazuo Ishiguro for winning the Nobel Prize for literature this year. A subtle, quietly assured writer, he has always been one of my favorites. I admire him for possessing the combined powers of observation and imagination, and for his evocative but minimalistic style.
Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki and came to England with his parents at the age of five. He’s an immigrant, in other words, but I’m sure the English are proud to claim him as their own. One of his most famous novels, The Remains of the Day (Booker Prize of 1989) is written from the point of view of a quintessentially English character, a butler. I’m not making any particular point by writing this, I’m just fascinated by the combination of cultures and the ability of someone to imagine different worlds.
Ishiguro’s latest novel, The Buried Giant, was a wonderful example of this, being set in a a sort of medieval world, an England after the departure of the Romans. The Nobel committee praised it for exploring “how memory relates to oblivion, history to the present, and fantasy to reality”. Some people found it hard going, but I was totally mesmerized.
Ishiguro was surprised by his win, to the extent that at first he thought it was a hoax. He said: “Part of me feels like an imposter and part of me feels bad that I’ve got this before other living writers. Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, all of them immediately came into my head and I just thought wow, this is a bit of a cheek for me to have been given this before them. And because I’m completely delusional, part of me feels like I’m too young to be winning something like this. But then I suddenly realised that I’m 62, so I am average age for this I suppose.”
Ishiguro is also a musician and one of Bob Dylan’s greatest fans, so he is a fitting successor to last year’s surprise winner.
I’m now off to buy When We Were Orphans, which for some reason I haven’t read.
Click the link below to watch a video where Ishiguro explains how his wife made him scrap his latest novel after two years’ work.