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.