Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Author is best known for novel ‘The Remains of the Day’

Kazuo Ishiguro has been named winner of the 2017 Nobel prize for literature. The English author has written eight books, which have been translated into over 40 languages. Video: Nobelprize.org


Kazuo Ishiguro has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. The citation praised a writer who “in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

The 62-year-old author is best known for his novel, The Remains of the Day, which won the Man Booker Prize in 1989. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan but his family moved to England in 1960 when he was five. He has previously won the Whitbread Prize in 1986 for An Artist of the Floating World.

Ishiguro described the news as  “flabbergastingly flattering”.  He admitted to the BBC that he hadn't been contacted by the Nobel committee and wasn't sure whether it was a hoax. He said: “It’s a magnificent honour, mainly because it means that I’m in the footsteps of the greatest authors that have lived, so that’s a terrific commendation.”

The award marks a return to safer ground for the Nobel selection committee after last year's controversial decision to award the prize to US singer songwriter Bob Dylan.

“If you mix Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, then you have Kazuo Ishiguro in a nutshell, but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix,” Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said. “Then you stir, but not too much, then you have his writings.”

Danius described Ishiguro as a writer of great integrity. “He doesn’t look to the side. He has developed an aesthetic universe all his own.”  

Ishiguro has been a full-time author ever since his first book, A Pale View of Hills (1982). Both it and the subsequent one, An Artist of the Floating World, take place in Nagasaki a few years after the second World War.

The themes Ishiguro is most associated with are already present here: memory, time, and self-delusion. This is particularly notable in his most renowned novel, The Remains of the Day, which was turned into a film starring Anthony Hopkins as the duty-obsessed butler Stevens.

Ishiguro’s writings are marked by a carefully restrained mode of expression, independent of whatever events are taking place. At the same time, his more recent fiction contains fantastic features. With the dystopian work Never Let Me Go (2005), Ishiguro introduced a cold undercurrent of science fiction.

In this novel, as in several others, we also find musical influences. A striking example is the collection of short stories titled Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (2009), where music plays a pivotal role in depicting the characters’ relationships. In his latest novel, The Buried Giant (2015), an elderly couple go on a road trip through an archaic English landscape, hoping to reunite with their adult son, whom they have not seen for years. It explores how memory relates to oblivion, history to the present, and fantasy to reality.

John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and a regular Irish Times critic, reacted with enthusiasm to the news. “By pure chance, about 10  minutes before the announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, a question popped into my head: if I could have written someone else’s novel what would it have been? And my first thought was The Remains of the Day.

“Kazuo Ishiguro is a most surprising choice for the Nobel Prize – I didn’t see his name listed anywhere as a potential winner – but it’s hard to argue with his elevation to laureate status. From his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, he has written of isolation and loss with elegance, empathy and lyricism. His underrated The Unconsoled (1995) recalls Kafka as his pianist narrator struggles with a sense of dislocation in central Europe, while his foray into speculative fiction with Never Let Me Go (2005) is as unsettling and conceivable as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

“The only work of his that I didn’t get on with was his most recent novel, The Buried Giant which, frankly, baffled me. But from one University of East Anglia creative writing graduate to another, hats off.”

Reviewing The Buried Giant, Irish Times literary correspondent Eileen Battersby wrote: “Ishiguro enjoys ambiguity and uses it well. He is a stylist, calm and unhurried, a master of mood. Yet he usually has something to say.

“He first emerged as a writer of beautiful works such as his debut A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating WorldThe Remains of the Day is one of Britain’s finest postwar novels. The Unconsoled is a Rubik’s cube, the genius of which is more apparent on a second reading.

“With Never Let Me Go Ishiguro wrote a prophetic narrative about human cloning. Only the lacklustre When We Were Orphans (2000) has disappointed.”

She was less enamoured of The Buried Giant itself: “this cautionary, half-hearted novel is not quite a fairy tale, not quite a fantasy. Instead it dangles unconvincingly somewhere between the two.”

However, even in her otherwise critical review of When We Were Orphans she acknowledged that the author “has a graceful, limpid prose style and a subtle shrewdness. Ishiguro is also a writer not so much caught between two cultures as nimbly side-stepping them and this is central to his fiction with its themes of war and displacement.”

The Nobel Prize in Literature is worth nine million kroner, approximately €944,000.

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