Ishiguro, Kazuo (Vol. 110)
Kazuo Ishiguro 1954–
Japanese-born English novelist, short story writer, and scriptwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Ishiguro's career through 1995. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 27, 56, and 59.
Considered one of the preeminent novelists of his generation, Ishiguro garnered international acclaim with his first two novels, solidifying his reputatuion with the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day (1995). Praised for the precision of his narratives, Ishiguro typically deals with themes of self-deception and self-delusion. The recipient of numerous literary awards, Ishiguro is often credited with infusing the British literary scene with new life.
Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan on November 8, 1954 to Shizuo, an oceanographer, and Shizuko Michida Ishiguro. In 1960, Ishiguro's father was temporarily assigned to help explore and develop oil deposits in the North Sea and the family, including two sisters, moved to England. By 1970 the family decided to remain in England; Ishiguro would not return to Japan again until 1989. He lived in an affluent London suburb and received a typical English up-bringing; however, he also spoke Japanese at home and was immersed in Japanese culture. After a period of indecision and travel, Ishiguro attended the University of Kent where he received a B.A. with honors in philosophy and literature in 1978. While working as a social worker in London, he met social worker Lorna Anne MacDougall whom he married on May 9, 1986. In 1980 he received a M.A. in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. While earning his degree he had three stories published in a new writers anthology and received a contract for his first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982). He received the Winifred Holtby Award from the Royal Society of Literature in 1983 for his first book and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1986 for his second novel, An Artist of the Floating World (1986). In 1989 he won the coveted Booker award for his bestseller The Remains of the Day. Ishiguro was named to the Order of the British Empire for his literary work in 1995. He continues to write and live in London.
Ishiguro's novels share similar stylistic elements and subject matter. In A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World, he examines Japanese culture from a Western perspective. In The Remains of the Day he shifts his focus to post-World War I England and in The Unconsoled he retains an English character but moves the setting to a surreal city in Central Europe. However, through all of these novels, he remains committed to telling the story of isolated characters who are self-delusional—consumedwith appearances, honor, and duty. Through a unique, finely crafted first person narration, the reader uncovers the reality of the central characters' lives. Ishiguro does not present characters as much as he slowly reveals them through the stories they tell of their lives. A Pale View of Hills centers on Etsuko, a former Japanese housewife who resettled to England to live with her English husband and their daughter Niki. As Etsuko recounts the events of her life in Japan, a portrait of her develops as a submissive woman who has been unhappy with her life choices but has been consumed with maintaining appearances. An Artist of the Floating World takes place in a provincial Japanese town between 1948 and 1950 as the protagonist, Masuji Ono, attempts to reorder his life and his country in the wake of World War II. However, despite his efforts to move his thinking forward, Masuji is unable to comprehend how his family perceives him. The Remains of the Day is narrated by an elderly butler named Stevens who has spent his entire life in unquestioning service to an English Nazi sympathizer. In the name of duty he has fired Jewish maids, neglected his father, and failed to realize a relationship with Miss Kenton, the housekeeper. Stevens slowly realizes that his life has been overwhelmed by illusions and self-deception. The Unconsoled centers on a concert pianist named Ryder who has arrived in a Central European city to perform. However, Ryder seems to be disconnected, as if his life has turned into a Kafkaesque nightmare in which he moves from one disaster to another. Despite its greater length and its unrealistic tone, the novel still centers on the concept of self awareness and choices.
Critics have focused heavily on the influence of Japanese philosophy and culture in Ishiguro's work, sometimes to the dismay of the author, who insists that his novels are firmly grounded in the British literary tradition. Beyond commenting on the obvious subject of Japanese characters and setting in Ishiguro's first two novels, critics have credited the author's taciturnity, fine sense of timing, and quiet tone to his Japanese heritage. Scholars and other writers have been almost universally impressed with Ishiguro's novels, as testified by the number of awards he has won at a relatively young age. Malcom Bradbury has credited him with saving the English novel by infusing it with new style. Ishiguro is often named with other writers such as Salman Rushdie for adding new dimensions to the British literary scene. However, critics are divided over The Unconsoled. While many praise Ishiguro for his ambition, some claim that the work is too long and fails to engage the reader. Others, such as Charlotte Innes, believe that The Unconsoled is exciting and humourous as well as poignant.
SOURCE: "An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro," in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 30, No. 3, Fall, 1989, pp. 335-47.
[In the interview below, which was conducted on December 8, 1986, Ishiguro discusses Japanese and Western influences on his writing, his characters, and the writing process in his first two novels.]
In January 1987, Kazuo Ishiguro confirmed his position as Britain's leading young novelist. He was awarded the Whitbread Book of the Year Prize, the largest such cash prize in Britain, for his second novel, An Artist of the Floating World. Born in Nagasaki in 1954, Ishiguro left Japan at the age of five and has not returned since. In most respects he has become thoroughly English, but as a writer he still draws considerably on his early childhood memories of Japan, his family upbringing, and the great Japanese films of the fifties.
Soon after publishing a few short stories, Ishiguro jumped to prominence in 1982 with his first novel, A Pale View of Hills. A Pale View of Hills was awarded the Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby Prize and has since been translated into eleven languages. With great subtlety, Ishiguro presents a first-person narrator, Etsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman, now exiled in England some thirty years after World War II. Traumatized by the recent suicide of her elder daughter, she tells her own story and that of a wayward friend in...
(The entire section is 5252 words.)
SOURCE: A Review of The Remains of the Day, in Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 1989, p. 13.
[In the following review of The Remains of the Day, Rubin praises Ishiguro's ability to get inside his characters and portray all their complexities.]
Stevens, the hero of Kazuo Ishiguro's third novel, is the perfect butler. All his life he has sought to embody the ideals of his profession: service, composure, dignity, and discretion. Having reached an age when, although still fully employed, he is starting to think about the shape of the rest of his life—"the remains of the day"—Stevens has set out (with his employer's blessing, to be sure) on a highly unaccustomed (for him) motoring trip. His general aim is to see something of the countryside (where he's lived all his life but never really visited). More specifically, he hopes to persuade Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), a former housekeeper, to return to Darlington Hall, which he hopes will run more smoothly again with her to help him.
Stevens is the narrator of his own story, and his perfect, perfectly parodied, butler's style of speaking can be contagious! That a writer born in Nagasaki in 1954 should have written a novel that so brilliantly captures the voice of a middle-aged English butler in the summer of 1956 reflecting on times past is remarkable, but not really another instance of the current "the Japanese do us...
(The entire section is 996 words.)
SOURCE: Gabriele Annan, "On the High Wire," in New York Review of Books, December 7, 1989, pp. 3-4.
[In the review below, Annan argues that in Ishiguro's first three novels he has brilliantly portrayed characters who are unable to see their own faults, evoking condemnation and pity.]
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan thirty-five years ago. He came to England when he was six, and has lived there ever since. This is a stranger experience than being Japanese in the United States, where the landscape is dotted with second and third generation Japanese. Even twenty years ago, few Japanese lived in England, and a Japanese child, except in a group of tourists, was a rare sight indeed.
Ishiguro writes in English. His English is perfect, and not just in the obvious sense it is accurate, unhurried, fastidious, and noiseless. A hush seems to lie over it, compounded of mystery and discretion. The elegant bareness inevitably reminds one of Japanese painting. But at the very start of the first novel, A Pale View of Hills, he warns against such a cliché response. A Japanese girl has committed suicide in England:
Keiko … was pure Japanese, and more than one newspaper was quick to pick up on this fact. The English are fond of their idea that our race has an instinct for suicide, as if further explanations are unnecessary.
(The entire section is 3169 words.)
SOURCE: Hermione Lee, "Quiet Desolation," in New Republic, January 22, 1990, pp. 36-9.
[In the review below, Lee discusses the relative influence of Japanese and English culture on Ishiguro's first three novels.]
On the strength of three dazzling short novels, Kazuo Ishiguro is now, at 35, a famous prize-winning writer in Britain. (Hardly anyone in America had heard of him until this year, but that's changing.) Still, I notice that people are always getting the titles of his books slightly wrong. Is it A Pale View of the Hills? The Artist of the Floating World, or Artist of the Floating World, or The Artist of a Floating World? The Remains of the Day sometimes loses its first definite article. Like all slight but persistent mistakes—Ishiguro's characters are much given to them—these are symptomatic slips.
For Ishiguro's titles do indeed contain evasive articles. "An" artist (unlike Joyce's definitive portrait of "the" artist) is open to amendment and uncertainty, and the floating world he portrays, and betrays, is "transient, illusory." It's not "the hills," but "hills"—some, where?—and it's not they that are pale, but the view of them, as if paleness were a quality of the haunted, ghostly viewer, who describes herself as having "spent many moments—as I was to do throughout succeeding years—gazing emptily at the view from my apartment window … a...
(The entire section is 3153 words.)
SOURCE: "Stuck on the Margins: An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro," in Face to Face: Interviews with Contemporary Novelists, edited by Allan Vorda, Rice University Press, 1993, pp. 1-35.
[In the following interview, which was conducted on April 2, 1990, Ishiguro discusses Japanese and British culture, perceptions of himself in each country, and how these perceptions have helped and hindered his career as a writer. Questions are posed by Vorda unless otherwise noted.]
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954, and emigrated to Britain in 1960. He attended the University of Kent at Canterbury and received an M.A. in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. In 1982 he was included in the original "Best of Young British Novelists" after having become a British citizen earlier that year. He is the author of three novels, and each has received a literary award: A Pale View of Hills was awarded the Winifred Holtby Prize by the Royal Society of Literature in 1982; An Artist of the Floating World won the 1986 Whitbread Book of the Year Award; and The Remains of the Day won the Booker Prize in 1989, Britain's top literary award. He currently lives in London with his wife, Lorna MacDougall, and their daughter.
The interview with Kazuo Ishiguro occurred on April 2, 1990, in Houston, where the author was a guest of the Houston International Festival....
(The entire section is 11516 words.)
SOURCE: Cynthia F. Wong, "The Shame of Memory: Blanchot's Self-Dispossession in Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills," in Clio, Vol. 24, No. 2, Winter, 1995, pp. 127-45.
[In the following essay, Wong employs literary theorist Maurice Blanchot's theories on first person narration to analyze Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills.]
"… the necessary condition for the solitude of a madman is the presence of a lucid witness."
The first novels of the Japanese-born and British-educated contemporary writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, employ a deceptively simple narrative strategy to develop the remembrances of protagonists reflecting upon and finding a meaning for their personal lives. Speaking in the period after turbulent historical times, the first-person narrators set private experience into a public realm; they seek to induct a reader, a witness, into their stories. They make an admission that their seemingly ordinary tales will be insufficient given the limitations of memory but, in establishing the fact of forgetfulness and the gaps in retelling, they also critique significant world events from their uniquely estranged perspectives.
In acknowledging the limits of their telling, however, the narrators reveal what literary theorist Maurice Blanchot calls their...
(The entire section is 6858 words.)
SOURCE: Bert Cardullo, "The Servant," in The Hudson Review, Vol. XLVII, No. 4, Winter, 1995, pp. 616-22.
[In the following essay Cardullo compares the movie version of The Remains of the Day with the novel.]
Milan Kundera once made a helpful distinction between two sorts of novels set in the past. There is, on the one hand, "the novel that is the illustration of a historical situation … popularizations that translate non-novelistic knowledge into the language of the novel," and on the other hand the novel that examines "the historical dimension of human existence." In the first case, cardboard cutouts are wheeled out to represent "the bourgeoisie" or "the last throes of imperialism"—in other words, important social tendencies in the historical scheme of things rather than individualized or self-determined human beings. Here, the background effectively replaces the foreground. In the second case, history is only one part of a multifaceted portrayal of characters whose lives are inevitably and decisively, but not reductively, shaped by larger public events. In this sort of novel, that is, social institutions are presented in the form of complex human relationships; complex human relationships are not reduced to mere social symbols or signposts. Here, the background and the foreground bleed into each other at the same time that each retains its separate identity.
(The entire section is 3587 words.)
SOURCE: Roz Kaveney, "Tossed and Turned," in New Statesman and Society, Vol. 8, No. 352, May 12, 1995, p. 39.
[In the following negative review, Kaveney calls The Unconsoled a "talented mess of a novel."]
Dreams are the most personal of universal experiences. Writers who deal in them may get credit for what is recognised or for what forces its way into the shared grammar of dreaming, but will be told there is no art in telling what everyone knows. They will be blamed for anything that seems too personal or feels like mere invention. Ishiguro's tortuous tale of missed appointments suffers, and occasionally succeeds, under all these rubrics.
Freud claimed all dreams for literary criticism, to be decoded as a poem full of hermetic symbolism. Jung added historicist New Criticism: your dreams are not your own, but merely inheritors of rules. They imposed a loss of innocence on the telling of dreams that is responsible for the sheer guarded mundanity of this novel. Ishiguro's discreet refusal of florid invention evades potentially embarrassing tropes at the cost of a deep dullness.
Ryder, an international virtuoso, arrives in a small town to play in a concert. The town combines an old quarter full of quaint bars where folksy Germanic porters engage in trials of strength with housing estates full of people Ryder knew in his suburban teens; its dignitaries and...
(The entire section is 707 words.)
SOURCE: "Probing the Plight of Lives 'Trapped' in Others' Expectations," in Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 87, October 4, 1995, p. 14.
[In the following review of The Unconsoled, Rubin argues that while the book may seem labyrinthine and nearly boring, it is also fascinating and skillfully written.]
Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1981), portrays his native city, Nagasaki, in the wake of the bombing that devastated it nine years before his birth. His second novel An Artist of the Floating World (1986), unfolded in the alien milieu of prewar, imperialist Japan. In his third novel, the Booker Prize-winning Remains of the Day (1990), Ishiguro imagined the world seen through the eyes of a stuffy, repressed English butler on the verge of retirement.
Now, in his fourth novel, The Unconsoled, this gifted and versatile writer, raised and educated in England, takes on a theme of Kafkaesque complexity that is played out in an ambience as overwhelmingly Central European as a vat of steaming goulash with dumplings.
The story is narrated by Ryder, a world-famous pianist who arrives in an unidentified European city to give a concert. From the instant of his arrival, Ryder is politely but relentlessly besieged by people wanting him to do small favors that will only take a "moment" out of his busy schedule but which will...
(The entire section is 966 words.)
SOURCE: Richard Eder, "Meandering in a Dreamscape," in Los Angeles Time Book Review, October 8, 1995, pp. 3, 7.
[In the following review, Eder claims that The Unconsoled is a complex and ambitious novel which becomes wearisome but is also rewarding.]
Awake, we choose our life or our life chooses us, and we spend our days living out the consequences of the choice. Asleep and dreaming, we are haunted by all the choices we didn't make and their exfoliating consequences. A kind of vital mainspring usually lets us give priority to our daytime acts and keep at bay the infinite alternatives, which, if admitted, would bring us to a clogged halt.
Any choice or action, however virtuous or prudent, will cause some pain, loss or dilapidation somewhere, even if it is only for what is not chosen or done. Daytime's mainspring lets us lock down the possible guilt and regret for these things. At night the guilts, the insufficiencies, the terrors have nothing to check them but the twin facts that they are bodiless and that we are going to wake up.
Kazuo Ishiguro, in whose tersely sculpted novels of moral complexity and regret the night world looms faintly through the daylight (The Remains of the Day, An Artist of the Floating World), has now published a full-fledged nocturnal sprawl. It is not, of course, as huge and unrestrained as the most famous of dream novels: H.C....
(The entire section is 1182 words.)
SOURCE: Brooke Allen, "Leaving Behind Daydreams for Nightmares," in The Wall Street Journal, October 11, 1995, p. 12.
[In the following review of The Unconsoled, Allen argues that while Ishiguro has chosen a new writing style, his subject matter remains the same.]
Six years ago, at the age of 35, Kazuo Ishiguro came to international attention as the author of The Remains of the Day, an elegant novel that won the 1989 Booker Prize and was made into a film by Merchant and Ivory. In The Remains of the Day Mr. Ishiguro trod territory that he had already explored in his first two novels. A Pale View of Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986). The narrator was once again an elderly person—in this case an English butler—looking back upon a life of meaningless ritual, missed opportunities, failed love. It established Mr. Ishiguro as a realistic artist, who wrote traditional stories in a formal, rather anachronistic style. Some even compared him to Henry James.
Mr. Ishiguro later admitted that he wanted to write something less realistic in form. The result is The Unconsoled, a departure for Mr. Ishiguro and an unusual, striking piece of work.
Imagine an alternate world in which life is not a dream but in which the dream is your life—in other words, where you must live your life by the inexplicable logic and ever...
(The entire section is 914 words.)
SOURCE: Charlotte Innes, "Dr. Faustus Faces the Music," in The Nation, Vol. 261, No. 15, November 6, 1995, pp. 546-48.
[In the following review of The Unconsoled, Innes praises Ishiguro for creating an exciting, well written, and humourous novel.]
How hard it is to be true to yourself when people expect you to be something else. Kazuo Ishiguro, the Japanese-born English writer, known to millions for the movie version of his Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day, has wrestled for his identity more than most, first as an immigrant writer struggling to throw off the noose of stereotype and now as a postmodern novelist who jolted British critical preconceptions earlier this year with his fourth novel, The Unconsoled.
A discordant, plot-entangled, sometimes farcical nightmare of a book, nearly three times longer than his earlier works, filled with literary echoes and characters who won't shut up, Ishiguro's latest work has prompted reactions like "a stinker," "boring" and "chaotic."
Early American reviews sound puzzled. Like other writers who switch styles, Ishiguro will surely spark passions of every hue. For me, this is the first Ishiguro novel to arouse not only admiration but visceral excitement. As I read, it was as if Ishiguro were speaking directly to my concerns—how to juggle family, community, political activism and art. His...
(The entire section is 1407 words.)
SOURCE: Stanley Kauffmann, "The Floating World," in The New Republic, Vol. 213, No. 19, November 6, 1995, pp. 42-5.
[In the review below, Kauffmann suggests that The Unconsoled builds on Ishiguro's first three novels and should be interpreted in terms of the earlier works.]
Those who were lucky enough, or smart enough, to read Kazuo Ishiguro's first three novels in order of publication came to the third one, The Remains of the Day, with an advantage over the rest of us. Ishiguro was born in Japan and he has lived in England since he was five. (He is now 41.) To those who began with the third book, including myself, Ishiguro's huge cultural shift made that very English novel remarkable for what I would now call misconstrued reasons: we thought it an extraordinary feat of osmosis. But viewed through the perspective of his first two books, The Remains of the Day, wonderful anyway, seems even better.
Ishiguro's first novel, A Pale View of the Hills (1982), focuses on a Japanese woman now living in England, one of whose daughters has recently committed suicide and whose other daughter is in difficulties. The story interweaves the woman's past life in post-war Nagasaki with her subsequent English life and brings the braiding up to the present. The book concludes with a sudden, startling enigma. (That puzzle, though presumably this was not in Ishiguro's mind at the...
(The entire section is 3108 words.)