Monday, 5 February 2018
A rapport with Kazuo Ishiguro?
Dare I claim such a thing? Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, as you may know. I have just re-read his early novels written in the nineteen-eighties, A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World, two short but perfectly formed novels that have aged on my bookshelf to the point where they are now falling apart!
I was totally transfixed listening to his Nobel Laureate speech given in Stockholm, when he explained how memories do not just fade but also may be coloured, even distorted by time and later assumptions. He sees reality as being at best fragile and refers to Marcel Proust’s ‘Memories of Things Past’ – I found this exciting as I refer to this in my novel No Gypsies Served when my half-Gypsy hero decides to write his life story and reflects upon a quotation from this very book. This comes close to the end of chapter 2.
The following day Dunstan switched on his computer with a heavy heart, recalling books he had read in his ‘literary phase’ in his thirties, and in particular Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, or, as he read it, Remembrance of Things Past and he had recently come across a quotation from it: We find a little of everything in our memory, it is a sort of pharmacy, a sort of chemical laboratory, in which our groping hand may come to rest, now on a sedative drug, now on a dangerous poison.
Indeed. Well, he had started something he knew he must follow through but his reasons for trying to unearth memories, revisit his childhood and those troubled days as a younger man, had changed substantially. Initially it was to please Kay. How feeble and pathetic that seemed now. He had to chuckle. It was a poor reason to commit to such a massive undertaking.
Since dipping a toe in those turbulent waters, feeling their danger and strength suck him in, he could see it was no mean task to rekindle emotions and recall harrowing scenes of his life that he had conveniently tucked away for so long.
The sentiment in the Proust quotation describes well how Ishiguro's characters' recollections are sometimes unreliable. Delusion, memories that shift and slide form a recurring theme in his novels.
I personally love his disdain for genre, as being mostly a marketing tool, and indeed he sees the barriers now breaking down, as genres merge more and more. I wrote a couple of blog posts in November 2009 on this vexed question Still bugged by genres and how it can sometimes seem like the tail wagging the dog; so this was music to my ears when I tuned into an interview and heard his thoughts. (Where he also confessed to having problems with setting – not that you’d notice!) Like many writers he likes freedom in writing, not the confines of a particular label and in his latest book The Buried Giant he uses myth and fantasy.
You might be forgiven for thinking that he was brought up in Japan when you read his first two novels, but he and his parents came over to England when he was five years old, so as a young man he felt largely ignorant of his homeland. Of course the aftermath of the 1941 nuclear bomb in Nagasaki, where he was born, was not only well documented but must have been in the background of many a family conversation, especially where his grandparents were concerned. He came to realise that the old way of life he could vaguely remember, mostly through stories he had heard as a young child, may have been to some extent an ‘emotional construct’. This idea seems to flow through his characters’ struggle to grasp memories with clarity. Also the switches in chronology – now so commonplace in fiction were not the norm thirty years ago.
Remains of the Day, Man Booker Prize winner 1989, and Never Let me Go have both been made into films and he finds TV and cinema exciting. Literature in its printed form must offer something special in its storytelling to compete culturally with the screen. He believes that a novel can build up gradually to achieve a satisfactory resolution, rather than is found in many films, where the viewer’s attention is grabbed boldly only to find that the momentum may peter out. This is my understanding of what I have heard him say and, again, is something with which I dare to whole-heartedly agree.