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Kazuo Ishiguro

Discussion in 'Author Discussion' started by StillILearn, Jun 14, 2005.

  1. StillILearn

    StillILearn New Member

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    Is anybody else as impressed by this man as I am? I'm almost finished with Never Let Me Go, and I'm quite staggered by his talent.
     
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  2. novella

    novella Active Member

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    I read When We Were Orphans last year and found it a very strange book.

    He somehow managed to write a plotline in which the reader couldn't trust that anything was real.

    Also, right away you get the feeling that the protagonist/narrator is unreliable. I think. It's like that. I was never sure what was meant to be 'real' and what was a delusion of the narrator. The end was intensely like that, when it seems like that narrator goes completely insane.

    I think he's an interesting writer. I really wanted that book to be a little more straightforward, though.
     
  3. novella

    novella Active Member

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    Further thoughts:

    I haven't read Never Let Me Go, and I wonder if it has that English-class-system subtheme of Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, i.e., a main character who strives to be the 'most English' person ever. Ishiguro writes in English, but definitely has this foreign perspective of English society, and he warps the concept of the 'gentler classes' so that it really messes up some of his characters. They strive so hard to be something almost obscenely proper. Have you noticed this?
     
  4. StillILearn

    StillILearn New Member

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    I haven't yet read "When We Were Orphans", and I only saw the movie "Remains of the Day", and I'm not even British, so I may well have have missed some of the subtler subtleties of actually being British.

    In NLMG he leads you into the story like a guide leading you blindfolded into a strangely-wooded forest, but I found him to have been very careful and caring about doing this.

    The people in this book are not intended to be normal people, so they shouldn't seem 'off' even to a Brit.

    I hope you'll give this book a try. I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about it.
     
  5. StillILearn

    StillILearn New Member

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    Finished. This one will linger in my mind for a good while.
     
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  6. Shade

    Shade New Member

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    Novella: Ishiguro himself was born in Nagasaki and brought up in Britain, and I think some of his fiction perfectly exemplifies the similarities in the two societies - up to the mid-20th century anyway - as cultures which are significantly bound by reserve, formality and control. Having said that, his other books are not really like that at all (and I'd venture to suggest that When We Were Orphans is only tangentially in that area). The Unconsoled is his most remarkable book, and I'm rereading it at the minute. It's a maddening, insane epic, as difficult to get a clean grip on as it is to put out of your mind. Here, for what it's worth, is my patented Ishiguro rundown:

    A Pale View of Hills (1982): This debut sets the scene finely for Ishiguro's career: words like "enigma" and "elliptical" appear in the reviews and rightly so, because Ishiguro will never say what he means when he can hint at it and leave it for the reader to decide. It is also elegant and formal, like all his narrative prose, from the start:

    And here is Ishiguro in miniature: the dwelling on the past, the sense of guilt or obligation ("some selfish desire"), the cool calm prose (always hiding a ruffle of turbulent emotions) and the combination of Japanese reticence and English, well, reticence. It's interesting that when Ishiguro has moved in his fiction away from the formal strictures of Japanese society to England (in The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans), he has placed his fiction firmly in the past, where society there was reliably restrained too. Ishiguro himself was born in Japan but moved to England at the age of 5.

    All of which background is intended neatly to conceal the fact that I can't remember a thing about A Pale View of Hills, other than what the blurb tells us: a Japanese woman is now living alone in England and dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. The second world war features too, as a presence off the page, as it continued to do with Ishiguro's second and third novels. The blurb ends by warning us of "the memories tak[ing] on a disturbing cast." This too is par for the course with Ishiguro, where everyone has some hidden desire, shame, or other secret bubbling up from the past and polluting their present. We always have to work this out for ourselves though, as Ishiguro's other treat for those who prefer their fiction cryptic over quick is his mastery of the unreliable narrator.

    An Artist of the Floating World (1986) featured another one, Masuji Ono, who is an elderly man, the artist of the title, with a dark secret. For a time this was my favourite Ishiguro novel - not a controversial choice as it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Whitbread Book of the Year award - and in certain moods it may still be so. Because although all Ishiguro's novels have the unifying qualities described above, they are also all distinct, each appealing in a different way to a different mood. An Artist of the Floating World is spare and short like his debut, but had diversions that also made it a pleasure to read over and above the more literary qualities. He seemed to me, for example, to have developed an exceptional ear for children's voices, in the character of Oji, Ono's grandson, who may or may not be authentic but is precocious and pleasing and a distinct character in the way that many young children in novels are not. As with A Pale View of Hills, the key is in the unspoken - while Ono sounds confident and calm most of the time, we know he is stricken and paralysed by some horror connected with the rise of Japanese militarism in the early- to mid-20th century. So Ishiguro is a gift to those who want their fiction to be a dialogue between writer and reader, and not a spoon-fed monologue. It also explains why his books always reward re-reading.

    The Remains of the Day (1989) is still Ishiguro's most famous book, partly because it won the Booker Prize (in a very strong year: masterful works like Amis's London Fields and Winterson's Sexing the Cherry weren't even shortlisted), and partly because it's his most accessible novel (notwithstanding which, it won the Booker Prize...). And it is indeed a masterpiece and one of the mood-dependent contenders for being his best work. It inspires such admiration for many reasons. Every line and every page is essential and in its right place, and can be seen to serve its purpose. There is so much in it that when you think back on it you wonder how on earth he fitted it all into 250 pages: the war, the notion of servitude, the love story, the ever-present tragedy, all of which is fully worked out. And it is constructed like a clockwork toy or crossword puzzle, with tiny clues everywhere. Take the first and last sentences of the novel:

    On the surface they share the same formal, almost pompous form and language we have come to expect from Ishiguro's narrators. But looking again at the last line we see that Stevens, the butler in Darlington Hall, has made an unthinkable grammatical slip - a split infinitive - which is Ishiguro's signal to us that he is on the brink of, as one of his characters would never say, "losing it big time." The only other hint we get of this in the book is one stark sentence near the end, where all the layers of Stevens's protective carapace are skinned away at once to enable him to say:

    Such is the force of this simple admission in the midst of Stevens's obfuscation and self-protection that it detonates like a nuclear bomb. His heart, in case you are unfamiliar with the story, was breaking because (spoiler here: I hate those black tags) he has just accepted for the last time in his life that he is not going to pursue his love for Miss Kenton, the housekeeper in Darlington Hall whom he has agreed to meet for old times' sake. Mix in with this an employer with Nazi sympathies during the second world war, and a frustrated life of service, and the result is one of the greatest but least showy novels of the late 20th century.
     
  7. Shade

    Shade New Member

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    Ishiguro took six years over his next novel, The Unconsoled (1995). It's a biggie - at 535 pages, more than double the length of any of his others - and in a sense completely mystifying. I remember before it came out I read a piece in satirical magazine Private Eye which said that his publishers Faber & Faber were completely bemused by it, and certainly the reviews when it came out were overwhelmingly hostile. A very few people liked it, such as Prof. John Carey on Late Review (as it then was) while other panellists were suggesting that it should literally be burned (!), and it's only with the reissued paperback edition, now that The Unconsoled has shown some staying power, that Faber feel able to admit in the blurb that it was met on publication with "consternation" and "vilification." Why so? Simply because everyone was expecting another subtle, shy study like his earlier novels. What they got was a strange story of a concert pianist called Ryder who arrives in an unnamed European city to give a recital. However everything conspires to stop him from practising, meeting the organisers, and generally getting the job done. Scenes do not follow logically from one another. The sense of frustration is immense. What seemed clear to me as I read the book was that it was a dream story - which is not to give anything away as this too is now hinted at on the paperback. Ishiguro also said in an interview that the various characters were intended to represent Ryder himself at various stages in his life, and John Carey (who ultimately chose it as one of his best reads of the 20th century in his Sunday Times column, collected in the book Pure Pleasure) had this to add:

    Ryder is crippled by desire to please his parents, and indeed to please everyone, so that he finds that the resurrection of the whole 'soul' of the city is dependent on his successful performance. He becomes distracted and more distanced from his aims than ever. At the same time he cannot distinguish between his private and public selves, and hears (or imagines he hears) people's private criticisms of him as well as their public praise. And anyone who has felt out of their depth at a task, wondering when they will be 'found out,' only to end up attracting praise for a job well done, will know something of how Ryder feels. It's a dazzling and dizzying creation.

    However, Ishiguro himself was disappointed by the reaction to The Unconsoled. He was wounded by the notion that he had tried deliberately to be opaque, and declared that his next novel - When We Were Orphans (2000) - would be a rewritten version. This seems an astonishing thing to do, but of course the resulting work is a significant achievement in itself, and only tangentially reminds one of The Unconsoled: in the narrator's inability to work out what is happening, and his obsession with his parents. Like An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day, When We Were Orphans has a complex time structure which sees it set in a historical context and with the narrator looking back from there to earlier times. The narrator, Christopher Banks, is a famous detective - though we only hear of his skills and fame from him and have no direct evidence of them - who is, of course, haunted by the past. Like Ishiguro's earlier work there is considerable satisfaction to be had in working out where we are heading and where the narrator is really coming from, though here, as with The Unconsoled, the narrator's unreliability is more through ignorance and confusion than wilful covering up.

    His new novel, Never Let Me Go, which StillILearn has been so positive about, is much more straightforward in narrative than most of his books, and more fully comprehensible than any since The Remains of the Day. For me the fact that for once Ishiguro has a B-movie style scene where one character explains to another everything that has happened, was a weakness. And yet there is still enough lightness of detail and wealth of moral ambiguity to justify much strokey-chin thought after the last page has been closed, and even to warrant an early re-read.

    The setting of the book is "England, late 1990s," but not as we know it. We can tell this even from the limited narrative offered by Kathy, who tells us very little of the real world outside her immediate (and past) environs. There are words dropped innocently but sinisterly: donations, carers, completing, none of which have the meanings we understand. Kathy was a student at Hailsham, a residential institution for children which educated them and encouraged creative expression, but was not quite a school... They are being prepared for lives as 'carers' and 'donors', and they are a form of experiment made possible by advances in technology which, in this parallel world, came in the 1950s but which we are only seeing now.

    To say more than this would ruin the story, as there are two mighty coups of revelation delivered about a quarter and halfway through the book, which resonate through the rest of the story and are quite impossible to free from your mind. After this, there is perhaps less mystery than we would expect from Ishiguro, which is disappointing but necessary to enable him to explore the characters' reactions to the truth of their world in full. Seasoned readers of his novels will be slightly surprised by the relatively informal tone of Kathy's voice, and her willingness to talk about things like sex (has any Ishiguro character ever done so before?), though the familiar languid phrasing and unrushed delivery is all present and correct. At the same time, despite the bizarre sci-fi-ish condition of the characters' lives, they have something to say about all our lives, and how we cope with the knowledge of mortality - which is where some criticisms I have read (such as 'why don't they try to escape?') utterly miss the mark. The point is that they, like us, cannot escape. They may not even want to since (again like us) it is what they do that gives their lives purpose and function: such as it is.

    Ishiguro has delivered another reliably fine confection in Never Let Me Go, perhaps without the pixel-perfect wondrousness of The Remains of the Day, or the mad beauty of The Unconsoled, but with more accessibility than any of his other books and, despite the unruffled surface, a cast iron certainty to perform open heart surgery on any reader who's got one to give.
     
  8. StillILearn

    StillILearn New Member

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    Goodness, Shade, if I hadn't just finished reading this book, I'd be rushing out to buy it right now. Thanks to these insightful summaries of the man and of his works, I believe I'll enjoy reading his other novels even more than I might have.

    Thank you!
     
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  9. StillILearn

    StillILearn New Member

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    Shade, I just reread these posts of yours. You can bet that I will be keeping a pretty sharp eye out for your input and opinions around here from now on.
     
  10. rolodex99

    rolodex99 New Member

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    Ishiguro

    I am reading a free choice book by Kazuo Ishiguro and am thinking about reading We Were Orphans. I hear from some that this is a difficult read; could a 17 yr old male of average intelligence understand this?

    I was thinking about reading the Remains of the Day , but it didn't sound as appealing because of the romantic aspects. Any help would be appreciated

    Thanks
     
  11. Shade

    Shade New Member

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    Rolodex: we have an existing Ishiguro thread here which you may find helpful.

    I would suggest When We Were Orphans isn't the best book of his to begin with. The Remains of the Day (it's not really a romantic novel, don't worry, though repressed love is central to the storyline) is probably his most accessible and possibly his best - in my opinion it's one of the greatest novels of the late 20th century. Alternatively you could do worse than his latest novel, Never Let Me Go, which has been praised on the other thread above, and is shortlisted for the UK's most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize. His first and second novels, A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World are also pretty easy going. That just leaves The Unconsoled, a brilliant work in my opinion but very long and not an ideal choice for newcomers!
     
  12. rolodex99

    rolodex99 New Member

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    when we were orphans

    Just finished this book, overall it was likeable. The ending was a bit disturbing and I felt immensely sorry for Banks when he started getting desperate in the search
     
  13. ions

    ions New Member

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    Please please please please use spoiler tags for such information. :(
     
  14. steffee

    steffee Active Member

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    Wow, Shade!

    Just added A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World to my TBR and am thiking about The Unconsoled and When We Were Orphans on the strength of your post. And I wasn't even that impressed with Never Let Me Go!!
     
  15. StillILearn

    StillILearn New Member

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    I got to watch half of the video Remains of the Day yesterday, and I had forgotten how good it was. I had forgotten that Reeves played the American, too.
     
  16. Shade

    Shade New Member

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    Glad my evangelism worked, steffee! For what it's worth I'm halfway through a reread of Never Let Me Go and I'm finding it more troublesome and somewhere on that fine line between difficult and dissatisfying than I did last time. It may yet come together though. I keep asking myself 'What is the purpose of this particular scene/conversation?' as so many of them seem to be similar in showing the sheltered nature of Hailsham's students. So I keep thinking there's something I'm missing, which in The Unconsoled or When We Were Orphans was a feeling I liked, though I'm not so sure this time. For there to be 'something I'm missing' of course, requires intention the part of the author, which novella would say is irrelevant. I'm not so sure.
     
  17. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    I am presently reading The Remains of the Day and I have gone from loving the first part, to being bored by the middle, to being very pleasently surprised by the last part. Not finished yet, but I love spoilers, so I will say thanks Shade. Well, I already knew how would come out, how it had to come out. I suppose it is similar to the film, that I saw so long ago, I hardly remember it. :rolleyes: Oh Well.

    As for When We Were Orphans and especially Never Let Me Go, I already posted an opinion over in the BOTM thread so no need to rehash here. Suffice it to say, I didn't finish either one of them. But I will surely finish The Remains of the Day. Happily so.

    And thanks to those (you know who you are!) that encouraged me to read this one!:D
     
  18. steffee

    steffee Active Member

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    Remains of the Day is much better.
     
  19. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    I am not a Ishiguro fan, and as I stated above, did not finish NLMG, but I did read and finish Remains of the Day and found it far better. Enjoyable even. But I won't be reading any more of him.
     
  20. jaynebosco

    jaynebosco New Member

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    Thanks for letting me know :cool: Now if I can get my library account down to a resonable amount of checked out items :eek:
     

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