Kazuo Ishiguro Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to novels, Kazuo Ishiguro (ihsh-ih-gew-roh) has written short stories and film scripts. Three of his early short stories are collected in Introduction 7: Stories by New Writers (1981); his stories have also appeared in literary journals, and the 2003 film The Saddest Music in the World is based on an Ishiguro story. He has authored scripts for television films, among them A Profile of Arthur J. Mason (1984) and The Gourmet (1986), and the screenplay for the motion picture The White Countess (2005).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

From the beginning, Kazuo Ishiguro’s carefully crafted novels, with their themes of human dignity and loyalty pledged to dubious or ambiguous causes, have found great critical acclaim. However, it was only with The Remains of the Day, the 1989 winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction, Great Britain’s most prestigious literary award, that Ishiguro became known in the United States. In Great Britain, A Pale View of Hills received the Winifred Holtby Award from the Royal Society of Literature, and An Artist of the Floating World earned the Whitbread Fiction Prize as Whitbread Book of the Year 1986, another British literary distinction. In 1995, The Unconsoled won Ishiguro the British Cheltenham Prize. In 1998, Ishiguro received foreign honors. In France he was made Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in Italy he received the Premio Mantova. When We Were Orphans was short-listed for the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread Novel Award, and Never Let Me Go was short-listed for four major prizes in the United Kingdom, although it failed to win any. Ishiguro has come to be regarded as a major contemporary British writer. All over the world, his skillfully imagined central characters have fascinated readers and critics with their distinctively spoken tales of lives tested by history and beliefs challenged by tragedy.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What are some common traits of two of Kazuo Ishiguro’s protagonists, and how do these characters differ from each other?

Discuss the importance of memory in two of Ishiguro’s novels.

What are the key choices made by Stevens the butler in The Remains of the Day, and how have they shaped his life so far?

How do the early and later paintings of Masuji Ono differ, as described in An Artist of the Floating World? What are the reasons for this change?

Are there moments when Kathy rebels, at least somewhat, against her fate in Never Let Me Go, and what is the outcome of these events?

What are the effects of the notorious unreliability of one of Ishiguro’s first-person narrators, such as Mr. Ryder?

Discuss which issues torment two of Ishiguro’s protagonists and how they try to solve their resulting mental pain.

Discuss the role of fascism and militarism in two of Ishiguro’s novels.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bryson, Bill. “Between Two Worlds.” The New York Times Magazine, April 29, 1990, 38. This magazine article is an excellent, well-researched portrait of the artist. By covering Ishiguro’s life, art, and philosophical attitude toward his craft, and including the artist’s own words, Bryson gives the reader a sense of the personal and environmental circumstances under which Ishiguro has created his art. A photograph shows Ishiguro in front of his London townhouse.

Gurewich, David. “Upstairs, Downstairs.” New Criterion 8, no. 4 (1989): 77-80. A detailed review of The Remains of the Day.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. “An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro.” Interview by Allan Vorda and Kim Herzinger. Mississippi Review 20, nos.1/2 (1991): 131-154. An extremely useful interview with Ishiguro.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. “An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro.” Interview by Gregory Mason. Contemporary Literature 30, no. 3 (1989): 335-346. Among the most substantial interviews with Ishiguro.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Books of the Times.” The New York Times, October 17, 1995. Negative review of The Unconsoled.

Mason, Gregory. “Inspiring Images: The Influence of the Japanese Cinema on the Writings of Kazuo Ishiguro.” East-West Film Journal 3 (June, 1989): 39-52. A perceptive study that argues convincingly that Ishiguro’s novels share much with Japanese art films of the 1950’s. There, as in Ishiguro’s fiction, Mason argues, one finds a strong focus on everyday experience and an avoidance of melodrama; the plot is often unimportant in relation to the themes.

Menand, Louis. “Anxious in Dreamland.” The New York Times Book Review, October 15, 1995, p. 7. A generally sympathetic review of The Unconsoled.

Parrinder, Patrick. “Manly Scowls.” London Review of Books 9 (February 6, 1986): 16. A perceptive review of An Artist of the Floating World. Parrinder places Ishiguro’s novel in the greater context of British literature and argues strongly for taking seriously Ono’s confession of his guilt, not brushing it aside as irrelevant. A good introduction to the novel.

Shaffer, Brian W. Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997. The only book-length study of Ishiguro’s life and work, up to The Unconsoled.