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Thread: Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. #1
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    England Kazuo Ishiguro

    I'll skip most of the biography, since it's available on Wikipedia. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, moved at age 6 to Britain, and has lived there most of his life since. B.A.'s in English and philosophy, M.A. in creative writing. Around that time he met and was briefly mentored by Angela Carter. It's notable that he doesn't seem to consider himself a very "Japanese" writer (although a few of his works are set there), having stated several times in interviews that he is only indirectly influenced by its culture and literature.

    Forewarning?I?m going to speak in generalities here, since I don?t have time to fully explore each work individually. While I might be in danger of disregarding important aspects of individual novels, I feel that there?s enough commonality among them to justify this approach. I also haven?t read any of his short fiction or screenplays, which might skew things a bit.
    Ishiguro?s novels tend to be fairly similar stylistically and thematically, although their settings and narrators differ widely. They tend to deal with people recounting their memories from late in life. The narrators, while often recording events which have fully played out, remembering phases of their lives which are over, are never in a privileged position?that is, they haven?t fully resolved the issues brought up by their recollections, and have lost the chance to ever do so. As such, there is often regret, and a sometimes poignant, sometimes seemingly desperate attempt to make sense of the past. The approach reflects the nature of memory itslef; it is inconclusive, unreliable and self-contradictory. Often events which shape the protagonists? very lives can be maddeningly incomplete or contradictory. Often succeeding memories cast prior ones in a different light (which is why I recommend at least two reads if you have the time). Within this framework some very interesting things happen. The narrative is often highly implicative, without the speaker ever even directly stating the concerns linking his/her memories or motivating their recollection in the first place. This is especially true of The Remains of the Day. Often it is difficult to immediately grasp why particular memories are being evoked. There is also sometimes a surreal quality present, with impossible comminglings among earlier and later events, clearly distorted by the narrator's unreliable grasp of his/her own life history or inability to come to terms with how things have played out.

    Above all what draws me to Ishiguro is what, if anything, can be called the central concern of his oeuvre?the irreversibility of the past. It?s incredibly moving on a very basic level?we all face the same in our lives?and it serves to remind us of our fugacity and mortality. At the same time his works are celebrations of the joys others can bring to us, and moments which seem all the more valuable because they can never be repeated. They are unapologetically sentimental and subjective.

    I'd really recommend anything but The Remains of the Day and The Unconsoled for a suitable and representative first read. The former because I believe its subtlety is best appreciated once one already feels familiar with Ishiguro (and has time for a reread) and the latter because it's substantially different from anything else he's written, and at least in my experience a rather frustrating read. However, if you?re only planning to read one, The Remains of the Day is it!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    Bravo, Wandering Aengus! I wholeheartedly agree with you on the point you made below:
    Quote Originally Posted by Wandering Aengus
    Above all what draws me to Ishiguro is what, if anything, can be called the central concern of his oeuvre?the irreversibility of the past. It?s incredibly moving on a very basic level?we all face the same in our lives?and it serves to remind us of our fugacity and mortality. At the same time his works are celebrations of the joys others can bring to us, and moments which seem all the more valuable because they can never be repeated. They are unapologetically sentimental and subjective.
    Here is my favorite quote that sums up The Remains of the Day, I think. I will definitely read The Unconsoled soon.
    Thank you!

    "One can't be forever dwelling on what might have been. One should realize one has as good as most, perhaps better and be grateful. The evening's the best part of the day. I should cease looking back so much. I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of the day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? The likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause of pride and contentment."

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    Quote Originally Posted by heidiadonis View Post

    "One can't be forever dwelling on what might have been. One should realize one has as good as most, perhaps better and be grateful. The evening's the best part of the day. I should cease looking back so much. I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of the day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? The likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause of pride and contentment."
    Amazing quote
    Ishiguro's Remains of the Days has been in my TBR list for quite a while. Hope to get to it soon.

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    Wandering Aengus, I'm interested in what you said about those two novels. Not sure about Remains of the Day (the voice is derivative and over-done to a point where I felt bludgeoned by understatement), but I'm curious why you found The Unconsoled frustrating, because I did as well. The book recreates dream life perfectly--not that it recounts a dream--but I was maddened by its monotone, its lack of immediacy. In particular, Ishiguro describes some wonderful dream-like settings and action--the tower blocks, the porters' dance--without giving one any sense of them. As his protagonist is a musician, I'll compare it to a long work in 4/4 time played in the key of C with no accidentals and no dynamics. Don't suppose that's the source of your frustration?
    Um, the flag. . .?
    the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on the dissecting table. . .

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    I?ve wondered myself why The Unconsoled appealed to me so little. I kept thinking that I was missing or misunderstanding something, especially given how much I?ve enjoyed everything else I?ve read of his. I can?t fully grok my own reasons, but in short, I felt psychologically distant from the narrator. I don?t understand his perception of the events, or rather, he is to me so extrinsic as to be two-dimensional. This was particularly frustrating because I had come to be (perhaps too) comfortable in predicting Ishiguro?s approach. The book definitely had strength in several scenes invoking archetypal fears, including all those between Ryder and Boris. All the same, I can?t help concluding, until I?m able to understand otherwise, that it was a failed attempt overall.

    What I?d like to see is a closer return to earlier form. A Pale View of Hills might be my favorite of his novels. Simple yet strange and perfect.

    And the flag?yes, I saw it. Close enough.

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    That's interesting. I'd seen Boris--and the conductor--as something like alternative Ryders, but the point about archetypes hadn't occurred to me. Would you warm to it more if you were to see Ryder's story as something like that? the (frustrated) quest, perhaps? I'm wondering if the book would have worked to the extent that it did if Ryder had been three-dimensional. I've read several of these Where Am I? books this year and feel that the impact they've had lay partly in the fact that the protagonists were, if not Everyman, slightly remote from the reader.
    Shall keep an eye out for the other you mention. Where are the flags to be found in the first place?
    the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on the dissecting table. . .

  7. #7

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    You see on the top right that I am currently reading The Unconsoled? I understand now what you said below:

    Quote Originally Posted by accidie
    I'd seen Boris--and the conductor--as something like alternative Ryders
    I also feel several characters are the same persons.

    It also reminds me the beginning of the poem Four Quartet by T.S. Eliot:
    Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future,
    And time future contained in time past.
    If all time is eternally present
    All time is unredeemable.
    Ryder is in his mind in the past, present, and future. I suspects Mr. Brodsky could be his future self and Miss Collins as his wife. It is a very odd story. Parts, if not all, of Stephan and Christoff is Ryder. It is in his dream as well as in his memory. I am about half-way, but I feel I need to put back the jigsaw puzzle at the end of the story.
    Last edited by heidiadonis; 15-Dec-2009 at 05:50.

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    I'd like if someone could recommend me novel's titles by this author to read?
    The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it... I can resist everything but temptation.Oscar Wilde

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    The Remains of the Day. Definitely The Remains of the Day. One of the best novels I've ever read. Other people like Never Let Me Go, but I wasn't thrilled. Nor was I impressed with When We Were Orphans. But definitely give The Remains of the Day a try.

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    Quote Originally Posted by SlowRain View Post
    The Remains of the Day. Definitely The Remains of the Day. One of the best novels I've ever read. Other people like Never Let Me Go, but I wasn't thrilled. Nor was I impressed with When We Were Orphans. But definitely give The Remains of the Day a try.
    Thanks. I will.
    The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it... I can resist everything but temptation.Oscar Wilde

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    "the Unconsoled" is MEANT to be repetitive, hypnotic, paranoid. You shall probably only like if you like writers like Berhard and Sebald!Steve

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    Kazuo Ishiguro has been named Nobel Prize in Literature laureate for 2017. A discussion on his win can be found here.

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    A good review by an Australian critic of The Buried Giant.

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    Thank you for that link Liam. It helped me to focus and clarify my thinking about Ishiguro.
    To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations, such is a pleasure beyond compare.
    Yoshida Kenko

  15. #15

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    That is an exceptional review. I love the format it uses. Liam, do you know if that is generally how they structure their reviews with that publication?

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    Cleanthess, you're welcome. It's from 2015, but still a good piece, I think. I remembered it after I heard the Nobel announcement and reread it that morning (well, it was morning in our neck of the woods, hehe).

    OTM, I think that's their general format, yes. Here, for comparison, are reviews of Arundhati Roy's new novel, Tolkien's Beren and Lúthien and an anniversary piece for Joan Lindsay's iconic novel Picnic at Hanging Rock.

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    Thank you, Liam! Lovely review. It's made me quite curious about The Buried Giant, a novel that didn't really pique my interest when it came out.

    I've been reading a bit about Ishiguro's relationship to diasporic literature, and I found this excerpt:

    "To study Ishiguro's writing in the discourse of immigrant or Diaspora literature, one must bear in mind that, although the novelist disperses his trans-cultural experiences into the individual lives of his narrators, his link with each narrator derives from the impressionistic melancholy of nostalgia and bereavement they endure instead of the realistic correspondence of the actual and fictional events he and they encounter. One also needs to attend to the textual detail that Ishiguro's narrators reminisce about their poignant pasts in their home countries rather than endure the challenging existence in a foreign land. These narrators are ensnared in a particular segment of time and thus unable to move on with their lives. The sense of estrangement Ishiguro addresses is deep-seated within rather than inflicted upon from without, for the war has so drastically altered the social structure and personal lives that individuals feel just as much menaced at home as they would abroad. What Ishiguro recurrently tackles is the sense of alienation a native involuntarily undergoes in the postwar era, so it will probably be more truthful to name Ishiguro's writing as Literature of "Inverted Diaspora" or "Immigrant at Home.""

    https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/postid/...;view=fulltext

    I've also been thinking about Ishiguro's deliberate use of decidedly British literary genres in the context of his thematic occupations (time, memory, illusion) and trying to dig much deeper into the historico-cultural roots of those genres. Still much reading to do.

    Also:

    "The Unconsoled in particular deprives readers of the cultural, identity and genre markers they expect, making it extremely difficult to employ one set of stable (formal) interpretive strategies... When We Were Orphans does something similar but reverts to a non-omniscient first person narrator and puts back setting, cultural and genre markers to trick readers into thinking themselves safe in a detective story when it is anything but."

    https://books.google.com.ph/books?id...page&q&f=false
    Last edited by Uemarasan; 06-Oct-2017 at 22:42.

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    Default Re: Kazuo Ishiguro

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel del Real View Post
    Amazing quote
    Ishiguro's Remains of the Days has been in my TBR list for quite a while. Hope to get to it soon.
    Oh no, sad to read shameful me 8 years ago saying I was going to read him and still nothing. I dedicate my life to reading and I still incur in so many gaps like these.
    Probably you can see many statements like these with different writers around the forum

  19. #19

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    Happens to all of us. Now you can look forward to buying a pile of his books with the Nobel sticker taking up 1/3 of the cover!

  20. #20

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    I've read them all and enjoyed them all. I'd probably pick 'The Unconsoled' as my favourite, but that's because I enjoy that sort of mindbending novel. I do remember finding 'Never Let Me Go' incredibly moving, though. The problem for me is that I haven't read any of his books for a while as I've been focusing on literature in translation over the past few years...

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