Born November 8, 1954, in Nagasaki, Japan; resident of Great Britain since 1960; son of Shizuo (a scientist) and Shizuko (a homemaker; maiden name, Michida) Ishiguro; married Lorna Anne MacDougall, May 9, 1986; children: Naomi. Education: University of Kent, B.A. (with honors), 1978; University of East Anglia, M.A. (creative writing), 1980. Hobbies and other interests: Music, guitar, piano, cinema.
Home—London, England. Office—c/o Author Mail, Faber and Faber, 3 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AU, England.
Writer, 1982—. Grouse beater for Queen Mother at Balmoral Castle, Aberdeen, Scotland, 1973; Renfrew Social Works Department, Renfrew, Scotland, community worker, 1976; West London Cyrenians Ltd., London, England, residential social worker, 1979-81.
Winifred Holtby Award, Royal Society of Literature, 1983, for A Pale View of Hills; Whitbread Book of the Year Award, 1986, for An Artist of the Floating World; Booker Prize, 1989, for The Remains of the Day; honorary Litt.D., University of Kent, 1990, University of East Anglia, 1995; Premio Scanno for literature (Italy), 1995; Order of the British Empire for services to literature, 1995; shortlist for Booker Prize and for Whitbread Award, both 2000, both for When We Were Orphans.
A Pale View of Hills, Putnam (New York, NY), 1982.
An Artist of the Floating World, Putnam (New York, NY), 1986.
The Remains of the Day, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
The Unconsoled, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
When We Were Orphans, Faber (London, England), 2000.
Also contributor to Introduction 7: Stories by New Writers, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1981. Author of television film scripts, including A Profile of Arthur J. Mason, broadcast 1984, and The Gourmet, broadcast 1986. Contributor to literary journals, including London Review of Books, Firebird, Bananas, and Harpers and Queen.
"When I write a novel perhaps some part of me wants to offer in a book an experience that you can't get easily sitting in front of a cinema screen or a television screen," novelist Kazuo Ishiguro told Linda Richards in an interview for January magazine online. "For that reason, one of the strengths of novels, I think, over camera-based storytelling is that you are able to get right inside people's heads. You're able to explore people's inner worlds much more thoroughly and with much more subtlety." In his five novels, Japanese-born Ishiguro has explored this inner world of characters from his native Japan to his adopted homeland of England, and on to Europe and mainland China. In the process, Ishiguro has emerged as one of the foremost British writers of his generation, his novels commonly dealing with issues of memory, self-deception, and codes of etiquette, leading his characters to a reevaluation or realization about the relative success or failure of their lives. Ishiguro has worked in traditional realism and in a surreal mode in his 1995 The Unconsoled, but as D. Mesher noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, his "diverse fictions are linked . . . by the author's consistent interest in narrative unreliability, a technique he has used with great effect in the development of his plots." Ishiguro's capture of the prestigious Booker Prize for his third novel, The Remains of the Day, confirmed the critical acclaim his work has garnered, a position reaffirmed by a Booker nomination in 2000 for his fifth novel, When We Were Orphans.
A "Temporary" Englishman
Born in Japan in 1954, Ishiguro traveled with his parents to England when he was only five years old. His father, an oceanographer, was employed by the British government with a temporary one-year contract, and the family settled in Guilford, Surrey, expecting to return to Japan the following year. However, the father's contract was renewed, and then renewed again until this temporary move became permanent; Ishiguro's first trip back to his native Japan would not occur until 1989. Meanwhile, he attended grammar school in Surrey and then went on to study literature and philosophy at the University of Kent and creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Speaking with Lewis Burke Frumkes in the Writer, Ishiguro addressed some of his concerns about growing up in two worlds: "I have a sense of having just left without saying goodbye, and of this whole other world just kind of fading away. . . . I have the feeling of this completely alternative person I should have become. There was another life that I might have had, but I'm having this one."
Ishiguro's interest in reading and writing developed early and first manifested itself in song writing. "I served my creative apprenticeship for writing through the form of songs," he recalled to Frumkes. He wrote over one hundred songs, and it was through these that he ultimately found his own voice for a literary style, as well. From autobiography, his songs moved to very wordy and self-indulgent lyrics. Finally he arrived at his what he described as the "pared-down, simplified" style which ultimately has informed his fiction writing. During his creative-writing studies Ishiguro began writing short stories; three of these were published in a 1981 anthology released by London's Faber and Faber publishers. Following college graduation, Ishiguro found employment for a time as a social worker, first in Glasgow and then in London. All the while, he was working on his fiction, turning from short stories to the novel. He began adapting his previously published short story, "A Strange and Sometimes Sadness," into his first novel, A Pale View of Hills.
Ishiguro's highly acclaimed first novel, A Pale View of Hills, is narrated by Etsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman living in England. The suicide of her daughter, Keiko, awakens somber memories of the summer in the 1950s in war-ravaged Nagasaki when Keiko was born. Etsuko's thoughts and dreams turn particularly to Sachiko, a war widow whose unfortunate relationship with an American lover traumatized Sachiko's already-troubled daughter, Mariko. Etsuko, too, will eventually embrace the West, and leave her Japanese husband to marry an English journalist. "Etsuko's memories, though they focus on her neighbor's sorrows and follies, clearly refer to herself as well," wrote Edith Milton in the New York Times Book Review. "The lives of the two women run parallel, and Etsuko, like Sachiko, has raised a deeply disturbed daughter; like her, she has turned away from the strangling role of traditional Japanese housewife toward the West, where she has discovered freedom of a sort, but also an odd lack of depth, commitment, and continuity." Surrounded that summer by a new order that has shattered ancient ways, the two women chose the Western path of self-interest, compromising—to varying degrees—their emotionally fragile daughters. "In Etsuko's present life as much as in her past, she is circled by a chain of death which has its beginning in the war," suggested New Statesman reviewer James Campbell.
Reviewing A Pale View of Hills in the Spectator, Francis King found the novel "typically Japanese in its compression, its reticence, and in its exclusion of all details not absolutely essential to its theme." While some reviewers agreed with Times Literary Supplement writer Paul Bailey, who stated "that at certain points I could have done with something as crude as a fact," many felt that Ishiguro's delicate layering of themes and images grants the narrative great evocative power. A Pale View of Hills "is a beautiful and dense novel, gliding from level to level of consciousness," remarked Jonathan Spence in his review for the New Society. "Ishiguro develops [his themes] with remarkable insight and skill," concurred Rosemary Roberts in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "They are described in controlled prose that more often hints than explains or tells. The effect evokes mystery and an aura of menace." King deemed the novel "a memorable and moving work, its elements of past and present, of Japan and England held together by a shimmering, all but invisible net of images linked to each other by filaments at once tenuous and immensely strong."
While A Pale View of Hills depicts the incineration of a culture and the disjointed lives of the displaced, it is not without optimism. Critics saw in the war survivors' tenacious struggle to resurrect some sort of life, however alien, great hope and human courage. "Sachiko and Etsuko become minor figures in a greater pattern of betrayal, infanticide and survival played out against the background of Nagasaki, itself the absolute emblem of our genius for destruction," Milton continued. "In this book, where what is stated is often less important than what is left unsaid, those blanked-out days around the bomb's explosion become the paradigm of modern life. They are the ultimate qualities which the novel celebrates: the brilliance of our negative invention, and our infinite talent for living beyond annihilation as if we had forgotten it." Reiterated Roberts: "There is nobility in determination to press on with life even against daunting odds. Ishiguro has brilliantly captured this phoenixlike spirit; high praise to him."
Ishiguro's debut novel won the Winifred Holtby Award and established the young author as a new literary lion in his adopted England. Ishiguro in part attributed his instant fame to serendipity. Published in the same year that novelist Salman Rushdie won the British Book Prize for his Midnight's Children, A Pale View of Hills attracted critical attention somewhat because of its international perspective. "Everyone was suddenly looking for other Rushdies," Ishiguro told Allan Vorda and Kim Herzinger in an interview for the Mississippi Review. "Usually first novels disappear, as you know, without a trace. Yet I received a lot of attention, got lots of coverage, and did a lot of interviews. I know why this was. It was because I had this Japanese face and this Japanese name and it was what was being covered at the time." If this trend toward the "exotic" had its up side for the freshman author, it also had its drawbacks, as he told Vorda and Herzinger: "I often have to battle to speak up for my own individual territory against this kind of stereotyping."
In An Artist of the Floating World, Ishiguro again explores a Japan in transition. According to a contributor to Contemporary Novelists, the narrator of this novel "is a much more robust creation" than the author utilized previously. Set in a provincial Japanese town during 1949 and 1950, the story revolves around Masuji Ono, a painter who worked as an official artist and propagandist for the imperialist regime that propelled Japan into World War II. Knowing that his former ideals were errant does little to help Ono adjust to the bewildering Westernization occurring all around him; nor does it quell his longings for the past, with its fervent patriotism, professional triumphs, and deep comradeship. As the reviewer for Contemporary Novelists went on to note, "little of consequence seems to happen" in the novel. The old painter has visits from his two daughters, gets involved in the marriage arrangements of one, visits some of his old artist friends, and goes to the movies with his grandson. Yet "these seemingly mundane domestic occurrences gradually force the elderly painter to review his past to reveal a complex personal history of public and private duties, professional debts and ambitions, and possible culpability in Japan's recent military past." Anne Chisholm, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, felt "Ishiguro's insights . . . are finely balanced. He shows how the old Japanese virtues of veneration for the Sensei (the teacher), or loyalty to the group, could be distorted and exploited; he allows deep reservations to surface about the wholesale Americanization of Japan in the aftermath of humiliation and defeat. Without asking us to condone Ono's or Japan's terrible mistakes, he suggests with sympathy some reasons why the mistakes were made."
Admiring how "Ishiguro unravels the old man's thoughts and feelings with exceptional delicacy," Chisholm determined that the story "is not only pleasurable to read but instructive, without being in the least didactic." "The old man's longings for his past become a universal lament for lost worlds," added the critic, who judged An Artist of the Floating World a "fine new novel." Though dealing with Japan, these first two novels are in no way meant to be historically accurate. "I did very little research," Ishiguro told Vorda and Herzinger. "I just invent a Japan which serves my needs. And I put that Japan together out of little scraps, out of memories, out of speculation, out of imagination."
The Remains of the Day
A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World, Christopher Hitchens noted in the Nation, share a form in their "unmediated retrospective monologue." He cited the novels' similar themes as well: "Each narrator has lived according to strict codes of etiquette and order; the ethos of actively and passively 'knowing one's place,' and adhering to protocol and precedent." Those same forms and themes shape Ishiguro's third novel, The Remains of the Day, which presents the narrative of Stevens, English butler to Lord Darlington of Darlington Hall. After more than thirty years of faithful service to the lord, Stevens now finds himself in the employ of Mr. Farraday, a congenial American who has purchased the estate and keeps Stevens on as part of the colorful trappings. Farraday urges Stevens to take a motoring holiday through Cornwall. Concurrently, Stevens has received a letter from Miss Kenton—now Mrs. Benn—an exemplary housekeeper who left Darlington Hall some twenty years before. Mrs. Benn's letter hints at unhappiness in her marriage and suggests a willingness to return to service at Darlington. Short of staff in the downsized estate, the ever-dutiful Stevens justifies his absence with the utilitarian purpose of hiring back the former housekeeper.
As the journey proceeds and Stevens rambles about in Farraday's old Ford—taking eight days to go about one hundred miles—he reflects upon the people he meets, the countryside and, tellingly and ironically, his own life. At one point Stevens proclaims the English landscape the most satisfying in the world precisely because of its lack of obvious drama or spectacle. This fondness to dampen the dramatic and spectacular and to fit in easily does, in fact, control his life, and is the reason he so thoroughly inhabits his role as butler.
Stevens thinks continually of those who were truly great—in his case, great butlers. For Stevens and his coterie of fellow butlers, professional prestige is firmly correlated with the moral worth of one's employer. Only through service to a great personage can one hope to make a contribution toward a better world. An unreliable witness to his own life, Stevens reveals more than he perceives. He ruminates with pride on the great, bustling days of Darlington Hall, when Lord Darlington had invited world movers and shakers to confer upon the Versailles Treaty. Darlington wanted better conditions for Germany, believing the other European powers had treated the defeated nation vengefully for a war in which they shared the guilt. But the lord proved a woeful amateur in the political arena of the 1930s, duped by Von Ribbentrop into making himself a useful tool and a rallying symbol for Nazi sympathizers.
As Stevens returns to the same memories again and again, the fog of self-deception lifts. One motoring mishap after another—a flat tire, overheated radiator—affords Stevens the time and perspective he has never had. Meeting the ordinary people who actually suffered during the war, Stevens has difficulty admitting to his long service at Darlington. He begins to doubt the lord's—and his own—judgment. The quiet tragedies of these revelations continue as Stevens comes to realize what the perceptive reader has known all along: his proposed rendezvous with Mrs. Benn has more than a utilitarian purpose. She represents, in fact, his last chance to seize happiness in life. Writing for the London Observer, Salman Rushdie noted: "Just below the understatement of the novel's surface is a turbulence as immense as it is slow." Mrs. Benn decides to return to her unhappy marriage, wondering poignantly what it might have been like had she and Stevens made a connection years ago when life was full of possibilities. On the pier at Weymouth, Stevens confesses to a stranger: "I can't even say that I made my own mistakes. . . . What dignity is there in that?"
The Remains of the Day met with highly favorable critical response. Galen Strawson, for example, praised the novel in the Times Literary Supplement: "The Remains of the Day is as strong as it is delicate, a very finely nuanced and at times humorous study of repression. . . . It is a strikingly original book, and beautifully made.... Stevens' . . . language creates a context which allows Kazuo Ishiguro to put a massive charge of pathos into a single unremarkable phrase." In the Chicago Tribune Joseph Coates described the novel as "an ineffably sad and beautiful piece of work—a tragedy in the form of a comedy of manners." He continued: "Rarely has the device of an unreliable narrator worked such character revelation as it does here." Mark Kamine cited Ishiguro's technique in the New Leader: "Usually the butler's feelings are hidden in painfully correct periphrasis, or refracted in dialogue spoken by other characters. . . . Few writers dare to say so little of what they mean as Ishiguro."
While many reviews of The Remains of the Day were favorable, this was not universally so. Writing for the New Statesman & Society, Geoff Dyer wondered "if the whole idea of irony as a narrative strategy hasn't lost its usefulness." Dyer worried that Stevens's voice is "coaxed in the interests of the larger ironic scheme of the novel." Comparing the novelist to Henry James, however, Hermione Lee defended Ishiguro's style in New Republic: "To accuse Ishiguro of costive, elegant minimalism is to miss the deep sadness, the boundless melancholy that opens out, like the 'deserts of vast eternity' his characters are reluctantly contemplating, under the immaculate surface." Award committees found much to like in this third novel: Ishiguro won the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in England, and took his place as one of the foremost literary authors of his day.
In a profile by Susan Chira for the New York Times Book Review, Ishiguro stated: "What I'm interested in is not the actual fact that my characters have done things they later regret. . . . I'm interested in how they come to terms with it." Ishiguro continued: "On the one hand there is a need for honesty, on the other hand a need to deceive themselves—to preserve a sense of dignity, some sort of self-respect. What I want to suggest is that some sort of dignity and self-respect does come from that sort of honesty."
Quality, Not Quantity
In his first decade of professional writing Ishiguro wrote a new novel roughly every three to four years. He became a full-time writer with publication of his second book; after he married he continued to write his novels and also television scripts. The Unconsoled, his fourth book, in contrast, was six years in the works. Winning the Booker Prize allowed Ishiguro "to break through the veil of expectations and constraints that both his success, and his readers' stubborn determination to take him absolutely literally, imposed," and "to try something wild and frightening that would prevent him from ever being taken as a realist again," according to Pico Iyer in a Times Literary Supplement review. Iyer noted that Ishiguro achieves this goal in The Unconsoled: "Even though every sentence and theme is recognizably [Ishiguro's], he has written a book that passes on the bewilderment it seeks to portray."
The Unconsoled, much longer than Ishiguro's previous novels, details the journey of Ryder, a famous pianist who finds himself in an unfamiliar town scheduled to perform a concert he does not remember arranging. Throughout the journey, Ryder "finds himself led, like a silent witness, through a never-ending sequence of unexplained mysteries, old wounds and vicious rivalries, none of which he (or we) can begin to understand. . . . Old friends from the past suddenly appear, and cause has no relation to effect. Time and space are weirdly exploded, so that the first night in town alone takes up 148 pages," wrote Iyer. "And, as in a dream, everything is so without context that one does not know whether to laugh or to weep."
Similar to the themes of his earlier books, Ishiguro again deals with codes of etiquette and order. "The book is in large part about assumptions and presumptions, about being put out and put upon—and about putting on a face of obliging acquiescence," stated Iyer. In one scene a hotel manager selfishly intent on making the pianist as comfortable as possible compels Ryder to change rooms, which in the end is an imposition rather than a kindness. The Unconsoled "present[s] us with . . . a whole society that wonders if it has missed the point and missed the boat, and comes to see that perhaps, at some critical juncture, it was too timid, too accommodating, too dutiful to stand up for its real needs," added Iyer. He concluded: "The Unconsoled is a humane and grieving book, as well as one of the strangest novels in memory."
Indeed, The Unconsoled puzzled and irritated many reviewers. Maclean's contributor Guy Lawson noted that Ishiguro builds his novel around "a clever idea: that music, no matter how unmelodic, represents a search for meaning in a confusing, contingent world," but complained that the resulting work is "so plotless, so oblique, so difficult to read that the idea is lost in maddening digression after maddening digression." Several critics stressed the differences between The Unconsoled and Ishiguro's previous novels. Commonweal contributor Linda Simon speculated, "It may have been Ishiguro's aim to subvert the conventions of the novel as a way of underscoring his theme [of the difficulty of communication and connection], but the result is a book lacking the grace and precision that we have come to expect from a writer who, so amply in the past, has proved his intelligence, insight, and talents." A Newsweek reviewer added that "It's as if he got sick of reading about how compact his prose is—how he's the poet laureate of the unspoken and unexpressed—and suddenly retaliated with this dense snowstorm of words." In a review of The Unconsoled for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani began by commenting on one of the similarities between The Unconsoled and The Remains of the Day: "Ryder and Stevens are actually mirror images of each other. Both are unreliable narrators whose fragmented, elliptical reminiscences will gradually expose their self-delusions. Both are willful professionals who hide behind the mask of their vocations. And both are cold, pragmatic men who have cut themselves off from reality and emotional commitment.""The biggest difference between the two men, it turns out, concerns the novels they star in," Kakutani continued. "Where The Remains of the Day was a narrative tour de force attesting to Mr. Ishiguro's virtuosic control of the language, tone and character, The Unconsoled remains an awkward if admirably ambitious experiment weighed down by its own schematic structure."
The Unconsoled had its champions, though. In the New York Times Book Review, Louis Menand asserted, "Although [Ishiguro] will write greater books, The Unconsoled is the most original and remarkable one he has so far produced. . . . By the standards of The Remains of the Day, The Unconsoled can seem oblique, underpowered and, because of its length, slightly pretentious; but by the standards of The Unconsoled, The Remains of the Day is predictable and heavy-handed. If no one had ever heard of Kazuo Ishiguro, if he had never published a word before, it would have been much easier to see how singular the vision behind The Unconsoled really is." Nation commentator Charlotte Innes, noting that some critics found the book chaotic, contended that, "far from being 'chaotic,' The Unconsoled is as tightly plotted as anything Ishiguro has written." She added, "The Unconsoled conveys the same bleak message as the rest of Ishiguro's much-praised work. Our self-deceptions are intolerable. Denial is a hedge against madness. . . . But his emphasis on the tremendous relief to be drawn from the complementary comforts of kindness and art suggest something more ambivalent here. . . . Music has no moral force. But the feeling it projects, like the life-giving exuberance of Ishiguro's prose, is unmistakable."
Another long wait for fans ensued between Ishiguro's fourth and fifth books. When We Were Orphans, published in 2000, offers a "fusion of Ishiguro's talents and techniques," including "the muffled misery and cool, clear prose" of The Remains of the Day and the "surreal paranoia" of The Unconsoled, according to Time International reviewer Elinor Shields. The novel begins in 1930, with its narrator, English detective Christopher Banks, being troubled by the mystery of his own life: the unexplained disappearance of his parents from their home in Shanghai when he was a child. Banks's renown in England, where he has solved many high-profile cases, leads to him being pursued by socialite Sarah Hemmings, although Banks remains distant and aloof from this possible romantic entanglement. Closer to his heart is his own private mystery, and his investigation into the disappearance of his parents finally takes him back to Shanghai in the late 1930s, when the city was under attack from Japan. Here the tone of Ishiguro's novel changes; some critics have even called the Shanghai sections Kafkaesque. While chronicling Banks's pursuit of the truth behind his parents' vanishing, the story also gives us his remembrances of his youth in Shanghai, his education at prestigious British schools, and his rise to a position of prominence in detective work. Sarah shows up in Shanghai at one point, now married to an elder statesman, and wants him to run away with her, yet in the end nothing comes of it. The novel is at once a mystery, a work of historical fiction, and "a Freudian fairy tale about a painful transition to adulthood," Shields explained.
When We Were Orphans "has its quiet successes," commented James Francken in the London Review of Books. "The hand-me-down conventions of detective fiction are shown to be too neat. . . . And there are delicate comic details." But, he cautioned, "When We Were Orphans doesn't work as a detective novel. Banks's stilted narrative relies on the mystery of the unaccountable and the fear of the unexplained, but the danger never really becomes threatening: there is very little evil in the novel and not even much nastiness." Furthermore, he complained, Banks is "starchy" and "predictable." An Economist critic thought the novel has "story-telling strengths" but inadequate characterization and "monotonous" dialogue. "The strongest impression is of nostalgia-soaked pastiche," the critic observed, a mix of "a novel of manners with a particular kind of detective novel." Shields, however, praised the work's "moments of unnerving suspense" and summed it up as "a rich, satisfying read, clear yet complex."
Once again Ishiguro employs the undercurrent of history—both public and private—as a basso continuo for the novel; his protagonist, Banks, has been shaped by this past, as have the other protagonists in all the rest of Ishiguro's books. In Banks, as many critics noted, he creates perhaps his most unreliable narrator to date. Speaking with Richards, however, Ishiguro had a different explanation of Banks: "He is perhaps not quite that sort of conventional unreliable narrator in the sense that it's not very clear what going on out there. It's more an attempt to paint a picture according to what the world would look like according to someone's crazy logic. . . . It's from [Banks's] perspective, but I didn't want to write a book with a crazy narrator. I wanted to actually have the world of the book distorted, adopting the logic of the narrator." Also, as with his first two novels and their passages set in Japan, the Shanghai of When We Were Orphans is not intended as a historical re-creation. "I don't know Shanghai firsthand at all," the writer told Frumkes. "It's a place that I have put together in this book from my association with that city at that time. It was a pre-Communist Shanghai. I learned about it through my father. There were a lot of photos he had in an album." Ishiguro's father as a child had lived in Shanghai with his own father. "It was never my intention to write a historical novel," Ishiguro continued to Frumkes, explaining that "it was the myth of Shanghai I found interesting."
If you enjoy the works of Kazuo Ishiguro
If you enjoy the works of Kazuo Ishiguro, you might want to check out the following books:
E. M. Forster, Howard's End, 1910.
Ian McEwan, Atonement, 2002.
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, 1992.
Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, 1905.
Ishiguro's interweaving of mythic setting and genre was recognized by Rosemary Hartigan, writing in the Antioch Review: "Under the surface of the period detective story lies an intricately constructed and powerful investigation of identity in colonial culture." Similarly, Tova Reich, writing in the New Leader, thought Ishiguro "is a writer in control." For Reich, When We Were Orphans is "written in the stately, reserved prose that has become the hallmark of this Japanese-born British writer." The tale, according to Reich, "is constructed in layers of remembered episodes that are unfolded with supreme work" to create "a tight drama of a poignantly self-deluding soul, acted out on a cruel and indifferent international state." Barbara Hoffert of Library Journal added further praise: "Atmosphere, historical detail, suspense: Ishiguro's new book has it all." In a starred Publishers Weekly review, a critic felt that this fifth novel "triumphs with the seductiveness of [Ishiguro's] . . . prose and his ability to invigorate shadowy events with sinister implications." Reviewing When We Were Orphans for World Literature Today, Brian W. Shaffer summed up both the novel and its author's body of work: "In novel after novel, [Ishiguro] explores the quietly tortured inner lives of his first-person protagonists against the backdrop of traumatic events or political crises....[His] novels are psychological mystery-voyages into the protagonist's problematic or compromised past."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 27, 1984, Volume 56, 1989, Volume 110, 1999.
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 194: British Novelist since 1960, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Shaffer, Brian W., Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1997.
Antioch Review, summer, 2001, Rosemary Hartigan, review of When We Were Orphans, p. 637.
Booklist, July, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of When We Were Orphans, p. 1974; April 1, 2001, Karen Harris, review of When We Were Orphans (audiobook), p. 1490.
Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1989, Joseph Coates, review of The Remains of the Day, p. 5.
Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 1989, Merle Rubin, review of The Remains of the Day, p. 13; October 4, 1995, Merle Rubin, review of The Unconsoled, p. 14.
Clio, winter, 1995, Cynthia F. Wong, "The Shame of Memory," pp. 127-145; spring, 2001, Cynthia F. Wong, "Like Idealism Is to the Intellect: An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro," pp. 309-326.
Commonweal, March 22, 1996, Linda Simon, review of The Unconsoled, p. 25.
Economist, May 6, 1995, p. 85; April 15, 2000, "New Novels," p. 12.
Encounter, June-July, 1982.
Harper's, October, 1995, p. 71; February, 1996, p. 30.
Kliatt, July, 2003, review of When We Were Orphans, p. 6.
Library Journal, August, 2000, Barbara Hoffert, review of When We Were Orphans, p. 157.
London Review of Books, April 13, 2000, James Francken, "Something Fishy," p. 37.
Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1986.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 8, 1982, Rosemary Roberts, review of A Pale View of Hills; October 1, 1989; April 1, 1990; October 14, 1990; October 8, 1995, Richard Eder, "Meandering in a Dreamscape," pp. 3, 7.
Maclean's, May 22, 1995, Guy Lawson, review of The Unconsoled, p. 70.
Mississippi Review, Volume 20, number 2, 1999, Allan Vorda and Kim Herzinger, "An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro," pp. 131-154.
Nation, June 11, 1990, p. 81; November 6, 1995, Charlotte Innes, review of The Unconsoled, pp. 546-548.
New Leader, November 13, 1989, Mark Kamine, review of The Remains of the Day, pp. 21-22; September, 2000, Tova Reich, review of When We Were Orphans, p. 42.
New Republic, January 22, 1990, Hermione Lee, "Quiet Desolation," pp. 36-39; November 6, 1995, Stanley Kauffmann, The Floating World, pp. 42-45.
New Society, May 13, 1982, Jonathan Spence, review of A Pale View of Hills.
New Statesman, February 19, 1982, James Campbell, review of A Pale View of Hills.
New Statesman & Society, May 26, 1989, Geoff Dyer, review of The Remains of the Day.
Newsweek, October 2, 1995, review of The Unconsoled, p. 92.
New Yorker, April 19, 1982; October 23, 1995, p. 90.
New York Review of Books, December 7, 1989, Gabriele Annan, "On the High Wire," pp. 3-4; December 21, 1995, p. 17.
New York Times, October 17, 1995, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Unconsoled.
New York Times Book Review, May 9, 1982, Edith Milton, review of A Pale View of Hills; June 8, 1986; October 8, 1989; October 15, 1995, Louis Menand, "Anxious in Dreamland," p. 7.
Observer (London, England), May 21, 1989, Salman Rushdie, review of The Remains of the Day, p. 53.
Publishers Weekly, July 3, 1995, review of The Unconsoled, p. 48; September 18, 1995, Sybil Steinberg, "Kazuo Ishiguro: 'A Book about Our World'" (interview), pp. 105-106; July 10, 2000, review of When We Were Orphans, p. 41.
Spectator, February 27, 1982, Francis King, review of A Pale View of Hills.
Time, October 2, 1995, Paul Gray, review of The Unconsoled, p. 82.
Time International, April 24, 2000, Elinor Shields, "The End of Innocence," p. 65; October 2, 2000, Paul Gray, "The Remains of Shanghai: Kazuo Ishiguro's New Novel Plays Reality Games," p. B56.
Times (London, England), February 18, 1982; February 28, 1983.
Times Literary Supplement, February 19, 1982, Paul Bailey, review of A Pale View of Hills; February 14, 1986, Anne Chisholm, review of An Artist of the Floating World; May 19, 1989, Galen Strawson, review of The Remains of the Day; April 28, 1995, Pico Iyer, review of The Unconsoled.
Wall Street Journal, October 11, 1995, Brooke Allen, "Leaving behind Daydreams for Nightmares," p. 12.
World Literature Today, summer, 2000, Brian W. Shaffer, review of When We Were Orphans, p. 595.
Writer, May, 2001, Lewis Burke Frumkes, "Kazuo Ishiguro," p. 24.
January Magazine Online,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (October, 2000), Linda Richards, interview with Ishiguro.*
BORN: 1954, Nagasaki, Japan
NATIONALITY: Japanese, English
A Pale View of Hills (1982)
An Artist of the Floating World (1986)
The Remains of the Day (1989)
The Unconsoled (1995)
Never Let Me Go (2005)
Kazuo Ishiguro is best known for his third novel, The Remains of the Day (1989), which won the Booker Prize, one of England's most prestigious literary awards. The language and tone of Ishiguro's novels are controlled, delicate, and formal. His protagonists often deceive themselves about the lives they have lived and the choices they have made. Ishiguro's novels are emotional journeys whereby these characters search for the truth and meaning of their lives. In the end, some characters continue to exist with their delusions, while others feel the pain of understanding that they have lived their lives poorly.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Leaving Japan Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, on November 8, 1954. Just over a decade earlier, in 1945, Nagasaki was one of two cities nearly destroyed by U.S. atomic bomb attacks during World War II; it is estimated that upwards of eighty thousand people were killed as a result of the attack on Nagasaki. Ishiguro would consider the aftermath of this attack in his novel An Artist of the Floating World. Ishiguro moved with his parents to Guilford, Surrey, England, in 1960, where his father, an oceanographer, was to be temporarily employed by the British government. Though the family left with the expectation of returning to Japan after a year or two, the assignment was repeatedly renewed, until they found themselves settled in England permanently.
“Services to Literature” Ishiguro was educated at the Woking County Grammar School for Boys in Surrey, then studied American literature at the University of Kent, earning an honors degree in English and philosophy in 1978. He found employment as a social worker, first in Glasgow, Scotland, and, after graduating from Kent, in London. While working in London, Ishiguro pursued an interest in fiction by enrolling in the creative writing program at the University of East Anglia, where he received a master of arts degree in 1980.
A Fading Memory Ishiguro has said that his initial interest in writing fiction was as a way of preserving memories of Japan that were beginning to fade, and he attributes his meteoric rise, in part, to his Japanese name and the Japanese subject matter in his first two novels: A Pale View of the Hills and An Artist of the Floating World. His first novel was published a year after Salman Rush-die's Midnight's Children won the 1981 Booker Prize, and, as Ishiguro recalled in a 1991 Mississippi Review interview, “everyone was suddenly looking for other Rushdies.” Ishiguro later took pains to battle the assumption that he only had interest in Japan-related fiction.
International Success Ishiguro's greatest success came with a novel about distinctly British characters. The Remains of the Day centers on the life of a loyal English butler who recalls his years of service in diary form. The novel was adapted for screen in an acclaimed 1993 film of the same name.
Ishiguro followed up his success with When We Were Orphans, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize. His 2005 novel Never Let Me Go, a dystopia novel with science fiction elements, also captured wide critical acclaim. He lives and works in London.
Works in Literary Context
The Unreliable Narrator A consistent element in Ishiguro's first four novels is his fascination with narrative unreliability, which he takes considerably beyond the familiar techniques of writers such as Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford, where the narrators' account of events can be trusted, if not their interpretations or explanations of those events. In his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, for example, Ishiguro's narrator fabricates not only motives but also actions and even characters.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Ishiguro's famous contemporaries include:
Mo Yan (1955–): Chinese novelist whose work is often banned by the Chinese government.
Tobias Wolff (1945–): American memoirist and novelist, most famous for the book This Boy's Life.
J. M. Coetzee (1940–): South African novelist whose works often address the serious problems facing South Africa in the postapartheid era.
Hayao Miyazaki (1941–): Japanese animator and director responsible for many popular animatedfilms, including Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
In his later fiction, Ishiguro's challenge is to surprise the reader with some unanticipated permutation of unreliability, which he achieves through multiple levels of complexity. In An Artist of the Floating World, the narrator's unreliability seems to involve his initial denial of wrongdoing in prewar Japan, and only after he has recalled and accepted responsibility for those increasingly reprehensible activities does the reader grasp that the activities themselves never took place. In The Remains of the Day, this greater level of complication
is achieved through the narrator's memories of two involvements, one a reluctantly revealed romantic relationship and the other an even more guarded political venture, which both transpired at Darlington Hall over the same fourteen-year period. And in The Unconsoled, Ishiguro subverts even physical laws by expanding the realm of unreliability from the past to the present in order to make the external world a projection of the narrator's contorted psychology.
Works in Critical Context
Each of Ishiguro's novels has met with critical acclaim, and several have won prestigious awards: A Pale View of Hills won the Winifred Holtby Award from the Royal Society of Literature in 1983; An Artist of the Floating World won the Whitbread Literary Award in 1986; and The Remains of the Day won the Booker Prize. Critics have praised Ishiguro's elegant and precise use of language and his controlled style of storytelling.
A Pale View of Hills Reviewing A Pale View of Hills in the Spectator, Francis King found the novel “typically Japanese in its compression, its reticence and in its exclusion of all details not absolutely essential to its theme.” While some reviewers agreed with Times Literary Supplement writer Paul Bailey—who stated “that at certain points I could have done with something as crude as a fact”—many felt that Ishiguro's delicate layering of themes and images grants the narrative great evocative power. “[It] is a beautiful and dense novel, gliding from level to level of consciousness,” remarked Jonathan Spence, in New Society. “Ishiguro develops [his themes] with remarkable insight and skill,” concurred Rosemary Roberts in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. “They are described in controlled prose that more often hints than explains or tells. The effect evokes mystery and an aura of menace.” And King deemed the novel “a memorable and moving work, its elements of past and present, of Japan and England held together by a shimmering, all but invisible net of images linked to each other by filaments at once tenuous and immensely strong.” Roberts also complimented the author's optimistic approach to the material: “There is nobility in determination to press on with life even against daunting odds. Ishiguro has brilliantly captured this phoenixlike spirit; high praise to him.”
The Remains of the Day The Remains of the Day met with highly favorable critical response. Galen Strawson, for example, praised the novel in the Times Literary Supplement: “The Remains of the Day is as strong as it is delicate, a very finely nuanced and at times humorous study of repression.” Strawson also states, “It is a strikingly original book, and beautifully made& #x2026; Stevens' …language creates a context which allows Kazuo Ishiguro to put a massive charge of pathos into a single unremarkable phrase.” In the Chicago Tribune, Joseph Coates described the novel as “an ineffably sad and beautiful piece of work—a tragedy in the form of a comedy of manners.” He continued: “Rarely has the device of an unreliable narrator worked such character revelation as it does here.” Mark Kamine cited Ishiguro's technique in the New Leader: “Usually the butler's feelings are hidden in painfully correct periphrasis, or refracted in dialogue spoken by other characters…. Few writers dare to say so little of what they mean as Ishiguro.”
While many reviews of The Remains of the Day were favorable, this was not universally so. Writing for the New Statesman, Geoff Dyer wondered “if the whole idea of irony as a narrative strategy hasn't lost its usefulness.” Dyer worried that Stevens' voice had been “coaxed in the interests of the larger ironic scheme of the novel.” Comparing the novelist to Henry James, however, Hermione Lee defended Ishiguro's style in New Republic: “To accuse Ishiguro of costive, elegant minimalism is to miss the deep sadness, the boundless melancholy that opens out, like the ‘deserts of vast eternity' his characters are reluctantly contemplating, under the immaculate surface.”
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Ishiguro is one of many authors who have employed unreliable narrators to great effect. Here are a few examples of texts written with unreliable narrators:
House of Leaves (2000), a novel by Mark Z. Danielewski. This novel contains a number of narrators, including a blind man who describes the visual details of a film, thereby undercutting any authority he otherwise would have had as a narrator.
Rashômon (1950), a film directed by Akira Kurosawa. In this film, four different characters all relate their versions of a tragic meeting in a grove between a bandit and a samurai and his wife. The samurai's testimony is offered through a medium, since he was killed, and the fourth witness—a woodcutter—openly admits to being untruthful in his first account.
Lolita (1955), a novel by Vladimir Nabokov. This story is told from the point of view of a pedophile, who claims that his victim seduced him.
The Sound and the Fury (1929), a novel by William Faulkner.
This tale of a family in crisis is told from the point of view of a mentally disabled person, allowing all sorts of convolutions of the truth that require the reader to work harder to discover what actually happened to the family in question.
Responses to Literature
- Read Ishiguro's The Unconsoled and Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Each text uses an unreliable narrator but in very different ways. In a short essay, describe how each narrator is unreliable and evaluate the purpose of this unreliability for each novel. Then briefly evaluate the effectiveness of each text.
- Read A Pale View of Hills, which concerns the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki. Then, using the Internet and the library, research the historical events surrounding the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. Based on your research, how well do you think Ishiguro portrays the aftermath of this important historical event?
- Much of what Ishiguro does in his writing is try to reconstruct Japan based on his memories of it from when he was no older than six. Try to reconstruct some place you visited as a child, providing as many descriptive details as you can.
- Ishiguro describes how he thinks his works are viewed differently because he has a “Japanese name” and a “Japanese face.” Read A Pale View of Hills. How do you think your response would be different to this text if Ishiguro did not have a Japanese name or a Japanese face? Do you think any novel depicting a culture is inherently less genuine if it is created by someone from outside the culture? Why or why not?
Shaffer, Brian W. Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
Gurewich, David. “Upstairs, Downstairs.” New Criterion (1989).
Jaggi, Maya. “A Buttoned-Up Writer Breaks Loose.” Guardian (April 29, 1995).
Mason, Gregory. “An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro.” Contemporary Literature (1989).
O'Brien, Susie. “Serving a New World Order: Postcolonial Politics in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day.” Modern Fiction Studies (1996).
Oe, Kenzaburo. “Wave Patterns: A Dialogue.” Grand Street (1991).
Rothfork, John. “Zen Comedy in Postcolonial Literature: Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day.” Mosaic (December 2001).
Wall, Kathleen. “The Remains of the Day and Its Challenges to Theories of Unreliable Narration.” Journal of Narrative Technique (1994).
Nationality: British. Born: Nagasaki, Japan, 8 November 1954. Education: Woking County Grammar School for Boys, Surrey, 1966-73; University of Kent, Canterbury, B.A. (honors) in English and Philosophy 1978; University of East Anglia, Norwich, M.A. in creative writing 1980. Career: Community worker, Renfrew Social Works Department, 1976; social worker, 1979-80, and resettlement worker, West London Cyrenians Ltd., 1979-80. Awards: Winifred Holtby prize, 1983; Whitbread award, 1986; Booker prize 1989; Premio Scanno for Literature (Italy), 1995; Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), 1995. D. Litt.: University of Kent, 1990; University of East Anglia, 1995. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature. Agent: Deborah Rogers, Rogers Coleridge and White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England. Address: c/o Faber and Faber, 3 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AU, England.
A Pale View of Hills. London, Faber, and New York, Putnam, 1982.
An Artist of the Floating World. London, Faber, and New York, Putnam, 1986.
The Remains of the Day. London, Faber, and New York, Knopf, 1989.
The Unconsoled. New York, Knopf, 1995.
When We Were Orphans. New York, Knopf, 2000.
Uncollected Short Story
"A Family Supper," in The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories, edited by Malcolm Bradbury. London, Viking, 1987; New York, Viking, 1988.
A Profile of Arthur J. Mason, 1984; The Gourmet, 1986.*
Remains of the Day, 1993.
Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro by Brian W. Shaffer. Columbia, South Carolina, University of South Carolina Press, 1998; Narratives of Memory and Identity: The Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro by Mike Petry. New York, Peter Lang, 1999.* * *
Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of five novels, and he was awarded the Booker prize in 1989 for his third, The Remains of the Day. It is not surprising that Ishiguro was given this literary accolade so early on in his writing career, as each of these novels is powerfully crafted in the inimitable, meticulously observed manner that has brought much critical and popular acclaim to their author. His more recent novels have been characterized by a formal adventurousness and willingness to experiment that have brought him further acclaim as a stylist and explorer of the possibilities of the novel.
Ishiguro's novels are characterized by the way that the calm expository style and seemingly unimportant concerns of the narrators disguise a world fraught by regrets, unresolved emotional conflicts, and a deep yearning to recapture (and make sense of) the past. In the case of A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World, the central figures are, like Ishiguro, Japanese by birth, and their personal desires to excavate the past suggest not only their troubled personal history, but also broader issues concerned with post-war Japanese society.
Ishiguro's first full-length work, A Pale View of Hills, is set in present-day rural England, where Etsuko, a Japanese widow, comes to terms with her elder daughter's recent suicide. The sad event of the present precipitates memories of the past and leads the mother to recall certain aspects of her life in Nagasaki just after the war. In particular, she remembers her friendship with the displaced, independent, and rather cruel Sachiko, a woman once of high rank now living in poverty with her neglected, willful daughter, Mariko. An elegant, elliptical composition, this novel (or perhaps more precisely novella) hints at connections between Etsuko's Nagasaki days and her present-day English existence. Her half-understood relationship with the enigmatic Sachiko and Mariko prefigures her problematic one with her own daughters, while Sachiko's displacement from her class, and eventually her turning away from her race as well, anticipate Etsuko's future anomie.
A striking feature of this confident first novel is the underlying sense of the macabre that pervades Etsuko's memories, particularly in her recollection of the strange, perhaps not entirely imaginary, woman whom young Mariko claims to know, and who appears like a character from a Japanese folk tale. This hinting at sinister possibilities, coupled with the way that Ishiguro with the skill of a miniaturist delicately shapes the story around shifting perspectives and selective memories, marks out A Pale View of Hills as a compelling and intriguing debut work.
While Etsuko's narrative betrays hesitation and uncertainty from the beginning, the narrator of An Artist of the Floating World is a much more robust creation. It is 1948 and Masuji Ono, a painter who has received great renown for his work, some of it decidedly nationalistic in its objectives, reconsiders his past achievements in the light of the present. As with the previous novel, little of consequence seems to happen. Over a number of months, Ono is visited by his two daughters, is involved in marriage negotiations on the part of one of them, re-visits old artist colleagues, drinks in the "Migi-Hidari," and, in a beautifully evoked scene, attends a monster movie with his grandson. However, these seemingly mundane domestic occurrences gradually force the elderly painter to review his past to reveal a complex personal history of public and private duties, professional debts and ambitions, and possible culpability in Japan's recent military past. More obviously than in A Pale View of Hills, the central character is both an individual and a representative figure. Through Ono's re-visiting of his past life, Ishiguro very skillfully describes an artist's training and work conditions before the war, raising much broader questions about artistic and personal responsibility during this contested period in Japan's history.
Ono's "floating world" is "the night-time world of pleasure, entertainment and drink," frequented by fellow artists. The narrators of all Ishiguro's novels seem to inhabit "floating worlds" distinct from the much visited, and joyfully described, pleasure-quarter. For them the old assumptions they held about their lives are under scrutiny, leaving them to try to make sense of the brave new "floating worlds" they inhabit. In The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro examines the changed cultural climate of post-war England through the attempts by Stevens, a "genuine old-fashioned English butler" (in the words of his American employer), to make sense not only of the present but, more acutely, of the past as well. As with the other novels, this tale of self and national discovery is precisely dated. In July 1956 the butler of the late Lord Darlington sets forth on a motoring holiday, accompanied by Volume III of Mrs. Jane Symons's The Wonders of England, to meet Miss Kenton, housekeeper at Darlington Hall during the inter-war years.
In the previous novels, Ishiguro raises questions about the relationship between personal and public morality. In the figure of Stevens, he presents public and domestic behavior as indivisible. Stevens has renounced family ties in order to serve his masters, having given up many years of his life to Darlington. As he sojourns in the West Country, Stevens reconsiders his time in service to the English aristocracy. The Remains of the Day, like the novels with Japanese settings, is distinguished by the skilled use of first-person narration. Here the stiff formality and prim snobbery of the butler's voice are maintained throughout, demonstrating the way that Stevens has renounced his individuality in order to serve well, and creating also some splendid moments of comedy when the events narrated are inappropriately described in such dignified and constrained tones.
In Ishiguro fashion, the "truth" is gradually hinted at through summoning up memories of things passed, and Stevens has to admit that his former master to whom he has devoted a good part of his life was possibly an incompetent amateur diplomat who was manipulated by National Socialists in the 1930s. However, as with the previous novels, the confrontation with an earlier, at times misguided, self offers hope for the future, and the endings of these precisely composed books are gently optimistic, rather than painfully elegiac, celebrating people's capacity for adaptation, understanding, and change.
Ishiguro's 1995 novel The Unconsoled, revisits much of the terrain of memory, regret, and aesthetic culpability that have been the hallmarks of his style. In this stylistically ambitious novel, however, Ishiguro inflects those concerns through a nightmarish dream-space where a Kafka-esque circularity results in a relentlessly anxiety-provoking narrative. The central character, a concert pianist of some renown named Ryder, arrives at an unnamed, vaguely central European town to give a recital. He then proceeds, in a time-frame that is stubbornly indeterminate, to pursue a bewildering number of delays, deferrals, and wild goose-chases, all of which may or may not be related to his own personal history.
The town that Ryder encounters has several fault lines in its social fabric. The most significant involves the civic implications of his performance, which differing factions within the town see as either a vindication or discrediting of an aesthetic conflict that is mapped along vaguely conservative and progressive lines. Ryder's unawareness of the broader ramifications of this performance, along with the continual emergence of new factional strife, produces a vertiginous plot, where encounter after encounter fail to resolve the issue at hand, and instead follow a bewildering line of deferral. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the characters themselves are frequently realized through what Ishiguro calls "appropriation," a technique by which, as in a dream, they appear as refracted manifestations of the narrator or his submerged fears and desires: the child Boris, whom Ryder frequently consoles with an insight that seems unnaturally empathetic; Stephan, an anxiety-ridden young pianist who looks to Ryder for advice on how to please his parents; and the elderly porter Gustav, who has ceased to speak to his daughter Sophie (Boris's mother) as an act of will. Ryder finds himself responsible for the suturing of these various social wounds, which are replayed through the many fractured parent-child relationships whose suffering permeates the novel, and his success or failure is to be measured by some nameless epiphany to be revealed through his endlessly deferred recital.
As in the earlier novels, there is a brooding sense of inter-generational trauma with which the narrator must somehow come to terms. In The Unconsoled, however, that trauma remains disturbingly unresolved. Ryder is unable to reconcile the various splintered relationships—too many to recount—that the narrative mourns throughout. Unlike The Remains of the Day, in which Stevens manages to recover the illusion of redeeming insight by the novel's close, The Unconsoled ends only with Ryder's tortured realization that resolution of the conflicts that have beset him throughout the novel—both personal and social—will evade him as surely as the recital that is the ostensible reason for his presence in the town. Ultimately, the hallucinatory style of the plot colludes so insidiously with Ryder's personal dream-world that the consolation of an ending where fragments are resolved in some measure is denied the reader as well.
When We Were Orphans proves a fitting stylistic continuance to The Unconsoled. Again, the territory is that of memory and nostalgia, and the failure of generational inheritance to relieve a painfully revisited nostalgia. Christopher Banks, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, is a well-known detective in pre-war England who is haunted by the disappearance of his parents in Shanghai years earlier. In 1937 he sets off to Shanghai to solve the mystery of their vanishing, and in so doing is forced to come to terms with the shady business practices not only of his father but of the colonial community as a whole. While the denouement may clarify some of the mystery, as in all of Ishiguro's novels there is much going on beneath the limpid prose of the narrative.
The undercurrents in the novel are again history—personal and public—as well as the troubling instability of memory in the face of trauma. Banks's failed relationship with fellow orphan Sarah Hemmings, as well as his childhood friendship with the Japanese boy Akira, emerge as part of a doubled time-line that triggers his recollections. While Banks as a narrator seems disarmingly disingenuous, upon closer reflection significant discrepancies begin to appear between his memories and the reported reactions of those around him. The resulting instability is a familiar one to the attentive reader of Ishiguro's fiction: the truth, as usual, is not the sole province of the narrator or memory, and resides instead in a more nebulous space where history and memory—trauma and wound—are indivisible from their informants.
updated by Tom Penner
ISHIGURO, Kazuo. British (born Japan), b. 1954. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories. Career: Full-time writer, 1982-. Grouse-Beater for the Queen Mother, Balmoral, Scotland, 1973-76; community worker, Glasgow, 1976-79; residential social worker, London, 1979-81. Publications: (with others) Introduction 7: Stories by New Writers, 1981; A Pale View of Hills, 1982; An Artist of the Floating World, 1986; The Remains of the Day, 1989 (Booker Prize); The Unconsoled, 1995; When We Were Orphans, 2000. Address: c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England.