Ishiguro is probably the author I know best, having used all six of his novels in my recent dissertation. I also love his book of short stories that intertwine with each other, called Nocturnes. One of the main reasons I find Ishiguro such an interesting writer is that, although his books have been very popular (two in particular), he doesn’t seem to change himself to suit an audience. His books are always considered and concern the slipperiness of identity and memory. He is also a deeply compassionate writer, which draws me to him more.
Ishiguro’s first two novels are set in his birthplace of Japan. A Pale View of Hills addresses the bizarre life of Etsuko and her recently deceased daughter. Etsuko’s remembrances are wrapped up in the foggy world of her traumatic experiences after the bomb fell on Nagasaki, which her daughter’s death had bought up for her. An Artist of the Floating World concerns an aging man after the Second World War (a lot of Ishiguro’s books are set around this time: when nations had to rebuild themselves and their identities.) Ono’s memory is either playing tricks on him, or is narration is unreliable to cover up various things he did in the name of Japan that he is no longer proud of after the war is lost. A fascinating little novel, but probably the one I love least.
The Remains of the Day is probably Ishiguro’s most famous novel. It is just heart-breaking and I cry every time I read it. Poor Stevens. Ishiguro said he was interested in the concept of people realising that they have wasted their lives, a theme in a few of his other books too. The film is good too.
The Unconsoled was a real change of direction; it’s set in a strange dream world and I can see why a lot of people didn’t like it on publication, it must have been a shock after The Remains of the Day. It’s one of my favourites though. It’s set in Ryder’s messy unconscious and has been called a masterpiece. When We Were Orphans is similar: I remember hearing Ishiguro say that he wanted to write a more accessible version of The Unconsoled. I think When We Were Orphans is interesting because it starts off with Banks, a 1930s detective, who you think will be solving crimes in a Poirot-esque way. But it takes such a different turn.
Never Let Me Go is another change of direction for Ishiguro. The horrors of the lives of the Hailsham students are only slowly realised by the first-time reader. Never Let Me Go is one of Ishiguro’s more populist books: it was made into a film a few years ago, but I wasn’t a fan of it. This leads me onto Nocturnes, Ishiguro’s latest book. There are five short stories that are all linked together in various ways. All five revolve around music: from aging musicians to wannabe songwriters. I think Nocturnes is very easily accessible.
Ishiguro has a new novel coming out next year and I’m very excited about it. His last novel, Never Let Me Go, was released in 2005; it will be ten years since he published a novel. It can’t come soon enough, really!