Literary sensation, Kazuo Ishiguro, won the Nobel Prize for Literature last Friday.
At the beginning of his career he was lumped together with writers such as Salman Rushdie, under the brand of exotic non-English writers. Ishiguo rejects such labels believing that his works explore themes that tackle much more than such confining definitions suggest. Ishiguo’s novels are dark and hard-hitting. His 2005 novel, Remains of the Day, is set in an oppressive English private school. Some might point to his own sense of isolation as a Japanese immigrant child in 1960’s England as the fuel for his dystopian portrayal of an English school. Yet, it is all too easy to talk about his ethnicity when trying to explain his writing. This does a disservice to his work because it fails to understand the reason behind his popularity. We are all prone to feeling that we do not fit in for a various reasons that may have nothing to do with being from a foreign background.
Ishiguro’s career is far less about his own identity; as his own surprise at being awarded the Nobel Prize suggests, Ishiguro is largely devoid of ego. George Orwell opined, in an essay “Why I write”, that there are several motives behind writing. While some novelists write for sheer egotism, others write for ‘aesthetic appreciation’ and the ‘historical impulse’, the desire to ‘see things for what they are’. In Ishiguro’s latest novel, The Buried Giant, set in Arthurian England, he makes time worn myths refreshing by using them to explore how we process traumatic past and deal with guilt.
The Nobel Prize described Ishiguro’s work as ‘uncovering the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world’. How this manifests in his work may not be clear, but they suggest that Ishiguro’s appeal lies in unsettling familiar labels that help us navigate the world. Ishiguro’s capacity for covering a wide variety of emotions and genres unsettles critics who try to put him in a box. His art is subtle and profound. The Nobel Prize will hopefully introduce Ishiguro to a wider readership and make us aware of the gray areas of our most treasured truths. As we examine his works more closely we are compelled to abandon the view of him as an immigrant writer just as we may have to reconsider whether his novel that has ogres and dragons is really a fantasy novel. Labels are convenient; they make us think that we understand the world and although they are integral to the bookstore or the librarian they do not reflect the nature of things as they really are.