Kazuo Ishiguro, who won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, has a number of strings to his bow, or rather his guitar. The 62-year-old is world famous as a writer of fiction, but his early dream was to be a great singer and songwriter, like last year’s winner, Bob Dylan.
His friend and former publisher Robert McCrum recalls the young Ishiguro turning up at the publishing house Faber and Faber with a bunch of his stories in one hand and a guitar over his shoulder. It was his stories that earned him the great honor he received two weeks ago.
As his name indicates, Ishiguro comes from a Japanese background, although he came to Britain from Japan at the age of 5 and is a British citizen who writes in English. He was educated at the University of East Anglia, a school that has become known for training writers.
Ishiguro’s writing is highly restrained. His characters are often reluctant to express themselves, except in a kind of code. This certainly gives his writing a quality in common with that of Jane Austen, an author to whom he is often compared. The best example of this is his novel The Remains of the Day, which later became a successful film.
The central character of the book is a butler called Stevens. He is an extremely loyal servant to an English lord, and is a character who some might call repressed. He misses out on affection and love because he will not confess his feelings to anyone.
The story is told by Stevens, and his style is as polite and unrevealing as his behavior. Of course, we have to read between the lines to uncover the “real” story, which isn’t quite the one the butler is telling. Stevens finds it a challenge to communicate, and communication is often a theme in Ishiguro’s novels.
In this author’s sense of the world, there is a gap between our feelings and our ability to communicate them. The Nobel Committee emphasized this theme when it talked about Ishiguro’s work. The writer has, the committee claimed, “in novels of great emotional force ... uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.