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!