This year’s Noble Prize in Literature has been awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro, “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” I have read all but two of his books, and I’ve loved several of them. Still, I didn’t see this coming!

Here is the list of Ishiguro’s work:

  • A Pale View of Hills (1982)
  • An Artist of the Floating World (1986)
  • The Remains of the Day (1989)
  • The Unconsoled (1995)
  • When We Were Orphans (2000)
  • Never Let Me Go (2005)
  • Noctures: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (2009)
  • The Buried Giant (2015)

Ishiguro’s Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day is one of my favorite novels of all time. Add to that another masterpiece in The Unconsoled, and I’m very happy his work has been recognized on this scale. Unlike many others, I liked but did not love Never Let Me Go and really had a hard time seeing the magic in The Buried Giant. However, such is my esteem for Ishiguro, regardless of what comes next I plan to read it, and I am certainly willing to give all of his work another go.

Since most of his work was done before I started this blog, I have relatively few under review. From the earliest days of the site, here is my review of The Remains of the Day. And, from 2015, my disappointed (but wrong?) review of The Buried Giant.

For lots of extended coverage, go to this post at The Complete Review, where M.A. Orthofer has been and will continue to be updating his post with links.

For some discussion, well, I could recommend this thread over at The Mookse and the Gripes Goodreads page.

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By | 2017-10-05T09:33:33+00:00 October 5th, 2017|Categories: News|21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. David October 5, 2017 at 11:06 am

    I only know Ishiguro’s work from film adaptations, having seen both The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, but coincidentally a few weeks ago I decided to remedy this omission on my part. I have Noctures: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall in the stack of books I plan to get to in the next month and have also got The Buried Giant to follow up with. This prize announcement might help bump him closer to the front of the waiting list.

  2. Sean H October 5, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    A not insignificant author but one with a smallish body of work. You had to figure they weren’t going to go American again after going with Dylan last year, but I just don’t think Ishiguro quite achieves the standard of a McCarthy, Roth, DeLillo, or Pynchon. Those are true titans of Literature. Ishiguro’s always been a bit ostentatiously “beta-male” for me. Even the Nobel committee themselves (who probably cream themselves a bit too much over the glasses and the Japanese-Brit thing, and giving the Nobel to this “sensitive, gentle” type of male is certainly a reactionary move in the era of Trump’s blowhard bluster and wannabe alpha infantilism; Ish was even born in Nagasaki, awwww, how “redemptive”) stated that his prose is “marked by a carefully restrained mode of expression, independent of whatever events are taking place.” Subtlety and nuance, sure, love those qualities, but “carefully restrained” is way too Iowa workshop model for me, too trinkety and “crafted,” as if literature is supposed to be artisan bread. And “independent of whatever events are taking place” sure isn’t an endorsement in my ledger either. I’m with Sartre — writers are supposed to write about, evoke, instantiate, and immerse their reader in the worlds they live in. Writing that is independent of events in the world is a bit too escapist and hermetic and insular for me.
    That said, I wouldn’t want it to be said that I was bashing on Ishiguro. Immensely talented guy, surehanded as hell, reliable and yet willing to try his hand at multiple genres and styles. Deserving of status in the literary world? Absolutely. But even just compared to his friend and fellow emigre from the east to Britain, Salman Rushdie (inconsistent and a bit self-indulgent, and the whimsical magical realist thing gets old fast, but Midnight’s Children and Satanic Verses are legitimate living classics that far surpass anything in Ishiguro’s repertoire), I just don’t see Ishiguro holding up all that well when contrasted with the all-time, top-tier, truly elite greats.

  3. Trevor October 5, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    I like Ishiguro a lot, myself, but I too wonder how well his work will hold the weight of a Nobel Prize. I really didn’t see this coming. Indeed, I’d have thought he’d rather hurt his case over the last dozen years, publishing sparsely and, for me (but not for others), simply so-so novels.

    That said, most people I’m in contact are very happy for this, so he’s definitely a well-liked (for now) winner in my crowd.

  4. David October 5, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Trevor, I tend to take prizes a lot less seriously in general than most people, so I don’t worry too much about why the committee chose who they did or who else they might have picked. I generally take prizes (and nominations for prizes like the various book awards) as just reasons to seriously consider reading someone. In a discussion with someone about whether one person is a better writer than another, I would count whether the person has won a Nobel Prize as having almost no weight. But it’s nice to win them and he seems like a nice guy and an accomplished writer, so good for him!
    .
    When you mention the “weight” of the Nobel, it makes me wonder what the reaction will be to whatever he publishes next. On the one hand, he might get better reviews out of deference to this stamp of approval. On the other hand, some might want to use the moment to question the choice, and so be more critical than they would be otherwise. Either way, I would expect he might feel a bit more pressure than he otherwise would to make the next book one that is well-received.

  5. Trevor Berrett October 5, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Your view on prizes and who wins are wisdom distilled, David!

    I also worry about how he can fight his personal demons when writing his next novel. From his interviews it seems that writing a novel does not come easily him, but he has to work through writer’s block again and again. Hopefully he does have more in him. At 62, he’s young!

  6. gary introne October 5, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Didn’t he also right ‘Positively Kashimuri Street’ and ‘Like a Rolling Sake Barrel’? Of what possible usefulness is the Nobel Prize For Literature since last year. A joke.

  7. gary introne October 5, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Write, not right. Although in this context it too may be a functional adaptive measure. The valuation being all gone now.

  8. Trevor Berrett October 5, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Didn’t he also right ‘Positively Kashimuri Street’ and ‘Like a Rolling Sake Barrel’? Of what possible usefulness is the Nobel Prize For Literature since last year. A joke.

    Ha ha! I was a bit slow to see what you were doing there. I immediately recognized the similarity between those titles and another’s, but at first I was like, “Well, I’ve never heard of those. I don’t know.” Then it hit me.

  9. William October 5, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    I’m curious. Sean named several authors who he felt are Nobel-worthy. I wonder what people think of Murakamis’ worthiness and chances (two separate issues).

  10. Trevor Berrett October 5, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    If you look in the right places, you’ll find a whole slew of folks offering their opinions on whether Murakami should or shouldn’t win. I tend to find most saying no, he shouldn’t, despite being among the world’s most popular novelists. I also tend to agree with them. As for chances, well, I’d have always said he had low chances but much better chances than Bob Dylan! I think most people I talk to about this stuff think he is not quite of Nobel caliber. Of course, I love to be told differently by someone who wants to explain their case!

  11. Lee Monks October 6, 2017 at 9:58 am

    I think The Unconsoled is a masterpiece (The Remains of the Day, which I thoroughly enjoyed, isn’t in that league for me) but, overall, this is a big surprise. I agree, Trevor, that The Buried Giant is a disappointment, and that he’s faded. I don’t think he’s as good as quite a few candidates out there (I’m not including Murakami, who also isn’t good enough for such an accolade, as much as I love many of his books).

  12. David October 6, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Hmmm … sounds like this conversation is ripe for the question: Who would you vote for if you were on the Nobel committee? Trevor? Lee? I want names! (Remember, those people you name might end up on my reading list, so this is potentially a question with real consequences!)

  13. Trevor Berrett October 6, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    I’m definitely all okay with Ishiguro winning. But . . . if I were given a chance to render the award:

    -Louise Erdrich
    -Javier Marias
    -Laszlo Krasznahorkai

    Those are probably my top three right now. Before he passed away last year, William Trevor would have been at the top of my list.

  14. Lee Monks October 7, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Add Pynchon and Vollmann to that list for me.

  15. Greg October 7, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Sean – I found your post quite entertaining! My favourite part was this:

    “Even the Nobel committee themselves (who probably cream themselves a bit too much over the glasses and the Japanese-Brit thing, and giving the Nobel to this “sensitive, gentle” type of male is certainly a reactionary move in the era of Trump’s blowhard bluster and wannabe alpha infantilism; Ish was even born in Nagasaki, awwww, how “redemptive”) stated that his prose is “marked by a carefully restrained mode of expression, independent of whatever events are taking place.” Subtlety and nuance, sure, love those qualities, but “carefully restrained” is way too Iowa workshop model for me, too trinkety and “crafted,” as if literature is supposed to be artisan bread.”

    David – Your approach on awards is very sound for us to follow too:

    “I generally take prizes (and nominations for prizes like the various book awards) as just reasons to seriously consider reading someone.”

  16. Sean H October 8, 2017 at 1:30 am

    As for Murakami and his chances (on that front, I actually think Ishiguro’s win hurts his chances), I always viewed he and Ishiguro as flip-sides of the same coin. Both were born in Japan, but one left for England, one stayed home; one wrote meticulously crafted highbrow-styled works (in English) and imported his tropes from the literary canon, one wrote sprawling surreal speculative fictions (in Japanese) and imported his tropes from genre fiction; one could be dismissed as stuffy and overly serious, one could be dismissed as too playful and not serious enough.

  17. Sean H October 8, 2017 at 1:51 am

    Regarding Trevor’s picks, Louise Erdrich, Javier Marias, and Laszlo Krasznahorkai, I have to plead personal ignorance (which is pretty rare, I can honestly say I’m a pretty well-read and widely-read person) on the latter two. I honestly think I haven’t read a word of Marias or Krashznahorkai, although I am a huge fan of Bela Tarr’s film Satantango, a modern masterpiece based on the Krasznahorkai novel and for which Laszlo has a screenplay credit. Imre Kertesz, also a Hungarian, won the Nobel for literature in 2002, and overall Hungary isn’t much represented (and deep Eastern Europe doesn’t have a lot of laureates in literature as a whole; unless you’re counting Pamuk/Turkey or Alexievich/Belorus, Kertesz is also the last Eastern European). He’s got a chance, I’d say, although other Eastern Europeans routinely mentioned include Milan Kundera/Czech and Ismail Kadare/Albanian.
    I’d call Erdrich more of a longshot. She’s got the biggest bibliography of the Native American authors but Alexie is the populist and Silko is widely regarded as the more canonical literary choice, Erdrich falls somewhere in between. She does have a good amount of accolades and hardware, but of Trevor’s three authors, I’d put her a clear third, and clearly behind the more canonical American authors I mentioned, though I think after Dylan it might be a long time before another American is selected overall. If they were going to award Roth or Pynchon they would’ve done it by now. I guess Oates still has a shot but I have a similar vibe there. Cormac McCarthy does not seem much like Nobel material either, I think the international POV is that he’s too insular, too similar to Faulkner, and not politically in line with the Nobel. Maybe DeLillo, although at age 80 he’s getting up there too.

  18. Greg October 8, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Thank you Sean for contrasting the two Japanese legends, and for drawing out the Nobel landscape for literature!

    Also, you mentioned that you are widely-read. Could you please elaborate? Thanks…..

  19. David October 8, 2017 at 10:15 am

    Trevor, I have only read four short stories by William Trevor, but three of them were brilliant and the fourth was pretty good. I plan to read a lot more of him eventually and I expect I will share your view he would have been a fine choice as a Nobel winner. I tried a couple of Erdrich’s books and she did not appeal to me. I have not heard of Marias or Krasznahorkai, but will look them up.
    .
    Lee, I almost read Pynchon several times over the years but seem to never actually get to reading him. Maybe I’ll get there one day. I really do keep meaning to read him, though. I don’t know anything about Vollmann. I’ll look him up as well.
    .
    When I thought about who I might pick for the Nobel I really had trouble coming up with any names. Most of my favourite authors are dead, so that rules them out, and among living authors there are a number I like, but only a couple I have read more than two books worth of writing, so it seems a bit much to say they should win a lifetime achievement award based on that little amount. To give you an idea what I mean, the living literary writer I have read the most of is Ottessa Moshfegh. She has published one novel, one short book, and one collection of short stories, all of which I have read. Next probably would be César Aira. I have read three of his short books. As much as I admire both it does not seem like a strong enough basis to suggest something like the Nobel, especially in the case of Moshfegh who is still really a relatively new author.
    .
    One final thought: I wonder how much of a correlation there is between authors who win major annual literary awards and authors who win the Nobel. If the Nobel really is something like a lifetime achievement award it would make sense to see winners who have already won a lot of other awards. Ishiguro has won the Booker and been listed three other times. That seems like the sort of track record one might expect for a Nobel winner, but I don’t know how often that is the case. Of course, with people who write in languages other than English and for people who don’t typically write books (like Dylan) the prize history is harder to trace, but there should be something there.

  20. Lee Monks October 9, 2017 at 6:20 am

    I think Trevor’s first two picks and Vollmann are all inevitable winners (Sean’s no doubt right about Pynchon, alas)…although Nabokov didn’t win.

    David: The Crying of Lot 49 is a quick read, as is Whores for Gloria. Both essential: both doable in a day!

  21. Lee Monks October 9, 2017 at 6:20 am

    Oh and I think John Burnside is worth a shout.

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