Reading Ishiguro


Starting May, we’ll be reading The Remains of the Day at my friend Karen’s blog. In June and early July we’ll read The Buried Giant here.





On July 5th we can also chat about the novel as a whole.

This post is an invitation to join, an my unloading of the many reasons why I adore this author and why I believe you are missing if you have not read his books.

It’s not news that Ishiguro is a writer after my own heart. This second time with The Buried Giant, the book has grown, the experience has been deeper.

What would you all want to know about Ishiguro? As a fan, I’ve accumulated many facts and opinions about him as a writer, and about his books. My mind is buzzing with possible topics to discuss.

I’ll do what I always do, a personal and emotionally charged account of my passion and admiration for Ishiguro. I first knew about him in June of 2013, through Sarah, a homeschooling mom, -Mormon at the time but not anymore, who read widely. Her review of Never Let Me Go caught my attention. I read the novel, watched the movie, and wrote at the time:

As Sarah says, revealing what the book is about won’t be fair. The author has paced the suspense of the book impeccably. By the time the next thing happens, though you do not know what will it be what it will be, you already know what direction he is taking. I coincide with Sarah, the use of the first person adds many layers and meaning to the book. The book transported me to my adolescence, since that is one of the many topics of the book. I would describe reading it like looking from a kaleidoscope of some sort, where the images don’t change, but the same picture expands and gets depth with each chapter.

After Never Let Me Go, I dived into The Remains of the Day for the first time. And after that, The Artist of the Floating World, When We Were Orphans, and his Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, in a relatively short span. By the last book, I was overdosing.

Time passed, and I felt the urge to go back to Ishiguro. With a friend, I decided to re-read Never Let Me Go. I’ve seen those who loved this book even more the second time, who admit the first time they gulped it down, and the second time they appreciated it more. In my case, the second time did not have the rush of finding out the plot reveals. Ishiguro nails it. Maybe I re-read it too soon, -there’s such a thing, maybe I didn’t get to talk about it, but the second time was fine, -don’t take me wrong, albeit not as memorable as the second time with The Remains of the Day and with The Buried Giant, I enjoyed it.

The second time around with the last two books I just mentioned were spectacular. I believe there’s some authors whose books, when seen in the context of more of their work, and when re-read, gain appreciation. For me, two of those are Ishiguro and Jane Austen. I have heard Ishiguro say that with his first books, he was writing the same novel for a while, (his first 3 novels: The Artist of the Floating World, The Remains of the Day, and When We Were Orphans, all have WWII as their background yet in different locations) I came to see that too. That’s why if you read several of his books, you can abstract and think of his recurrent topics, and have fun looking at the different scenarios he imagined and developed for them.) For Ishiguro, the setting or the genre he choses, is subservient to the bone marrow of the book, -which are those issues he’s set to write about-, but it’s not a detached thing either, it is also symbiotic, it infuses the novel with a peculiar mood and feel.

If we pay attention to the scenarios, we may deduct that he wrote quite varied books: dystopia, realism, and maybe with The Buried Giant, fantasy. To me, this is a misguided observation. I believe Ishiguro is true to his preoccupations, his delightful obsessions (time, ethics, forgiving, memory, love, meaning of life, the big themes that we’ve been concerned from the beginning of time, with his peculiar articulation.) This is why his work gains a notch when contemplated at a scale larger than the individual novel.

I once had the plan to read all his works. He’ll have to forgive me, though, but for more than I know I’d adore his The Unconsoled in terms of all that makes Ishiguro a favorite author for many of us, I can’t stretch my conscience to meet him there. This happens to me with other novels, (Nabokov’s Lolita, for example). But this causes me no pain, for I still have a mine at my disposition with everything else he’s penned.

In the several podcasts and interviews with him or about him, I’ve gotten to know that Ishiguro wants the reader to find out those themes he’s sharing. He said he won’t like to have great reviews if they were off mark, if they saw something different to what he planted there for the reader to experience. Worry not, Ishiguro doesn’t spoon feed us nor tells us what to think. He also adds he doesn’t give us lots of details, (he knows after a few brushes of his prose, we’ll be able to sketch the whole picture in our imagination), but he’s set to share some emotions with us, and there lies his talent, he weaves words like Arachne, and lures us inside that web by his unassuming style. After we close his books, we start reading them. We may be able to take a step back, and think about what just happened in the book, and to us. Even today, I can travel to the time I read the books, and recall certain events in them, details, and I start to think about the many questions I had at the time, and how to answer them. I always like to be reading Ishiguro. I probably will end up suffering another indigestion, but right now, I just want to summon YOU, and beg you to join.

Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, and moved to England when he was 5. His parents retained Japanese customs and culture at home, while they also assimilated to the new country. Ishiguro is then, I’d say, a peculiar British writer. I know that his mind is shaped by two language systems. He says:

Growing up in a Japanese family in the UK was crucial to his writing, as he says, enabling him to see things from a different perspective from many of his British peers.

People are not two-thirds one thing and the remainder something else. Temperament, personality, or outlook don’t divide quite like that. The bits don’t separate clearly. You end up a funny homogeneous mixture. This is something that will become more common in the latter part of the century—people with mixed cultural backgrounds, and mixed racial backgrounds. That’s the way the world is going.

We will never know if this has to do with his Japanese make up, of if this is something critics, fans, and reviewers all over the world have created by attributing the sensibility and style we perceive when we say, “it’s because he’s Japanese”. Japanese, British, I felt a different (as in not what I’m used to) pace, a simplicity of words that achieved quite a complex poetry. If I had to say something that enamored me about his style, (and it’s not an original observation, -grin), it’d be that Ishiguro says more with what he doesn’t say than with what he says.

Language, oh, language! Maybe this is why I esteem him so much. In another podcast, he said his goal was to write a decent sentence in English. That made me smile and commiserate. At a minuscule an inconsequential scale, that’s my goal as well. He said he cannot write beautiful English, such as Salman Rushdie. (Mr. Ishiguro, you have enabled me, ha ha. I went on to buy two of Rushdie’s books, I opened Midnight’s Children, and voila, that’s beautiful English. I’m learning restraint, I guess. I put the book away and kept my course.)

The Buried Giant required a different language. At another interview, Ishiguro relates how after almost a year, his wife -and first base editor-, told him he had to start all over. The book didn’t have what you’d expect in a medieval English book, or rather, in a book that happened in medieval England. Not meaning he’d adopt an obsolete use of language, but that there had to be certain wise choices that didn’t give the book an anachronistic feel. This much was very appreciated in my second read. No words, sentence structure, or anything, jilts the reader from the mood he conjures. When I read The Makioka Sisters in translation, I also realized the lack of some words and expressions we are very used to. Not many “I love, I like”, a distinctive different perspective, it’s a different way of viewing people and things through language, the evasive factor that makes some work western/eastern.

An example of what I’m talking about would be this. I know I can write in English. I also know that when you read this, all of you can sense something off. It may be small, but it’s there. Every time I publish a post and I read it again, I find lots of ambiguous sentences, small mistakes, and big blunders such as bear feet, I don’t know. I know this happens to everybody, but I’m talking about a sixth sense for language I only have in Spanish. When I studied German, we had to learn if words were masculine, feminine, or neutral. My German teacher told us that, whenever she didn’t know, she would make a guess and she’d be almost always right. Conversely, I would advance that I have a knack for knowing if a word in Spanish is spelled with “v” or “b”, “x” or “s”, -though I’m, -like anybody else-, pray of common mistakes, especially when writing a first draft.

There’s also what I call language stamina. When it comes to modern and postmodern writers who are very steeped in language and who present us with challenging books that demand our participation, I don’t have muscle in English to remain engaged and comprehending too long or erudite sentences. If I do have it, I’m strained, and I am unable to float over the language, enjoy it in full, and capture the humor or nuances that delight other type of readers, or that I can reach if I’m reading in Spanish. This is also a problem when it comes to reading books with untranslatable accents or dialects such as Mark Twain, or The Pickwick Papers by Dickens, which, if I had to read at all I’d have to read in Spanish first or in part.

But muscle can be developed. My favorite gym has been the Bible. I read it for spiritual and existential reasons, and reading it daily has rendered fruits in many other areas such as my reading capacity for other books.

Back to Ishiguro, language in his novels, -specially The Buried Giant, won’t be a difficulty. If anything, it’s not language clues we may appreciate. For example, it’d help us to know that he’s placing his novel in an imagined medieval England. He tells us, though, what to expect and what not before he proceeds to blur everything, ha ha ha. He gives us clues as to what the inhabitants of the village, where the two protagonists live at the beginning of the book, believe or don’t believe, and how their world and life differs from ours. This novel happens before enlightenment. I’m not sure if it’s a place in transition, but I believe it’s an after conflict type of society, or in between wars. Which is to say, every society. Yet again, this is medieval England, ha ha ha.

And beware, there’d be dragons!

I can’t wait to delve into both books in your company.

15 thoughts on “Reading Ishiguro

  1. Pingback: Homage to Ishiguro, #just.ordered.the.missing.titles | Silvia Cachia

  2. You’re so right, Krysta. I even read Japanese claim him since he got the Nobel prize, but he is a British, a peculiar British, if you want, but not a Japanese as one who has lived and written in Japanese all his life.
    Thanks for the comment, and glad to know you like him too.

  3. I do find it odd when people call Ishiguro a “Japanese author” because, as you say, he’s lived pretty much his entire life in Britain and I vaguely recall listening to an interview in which he described himself as a British or British-Japanese author. But it is interesting because I think that it is his appearance or his name that lead people to make assumptions about his background, whereas assumptions about how he sees his own identify likely wouldn’t happen the same way if he appeared more “British” to people–whatever that may mean.

    Anyway, I do think Ishiguro is a lovely, thoughtful writer. I’m glad you featured his work!

  4. He is pretty light to read while you are reading. I would finish the book, and he would have me thinking about it for the longest time.
    But I know, our reading life is a complex life, huh, I too have many wonderful authors others admire and I have not read, for example, I think of you and Sylvia Plath comes to mind.

  5. This is so much fun. The predictive text (is autocorrection in British, right?), adds a new lawyer of unpredicted fun.)

  6. What a delightful post. I did love it, I didn’t want it to end.
    Lol, yeah, prey, not pray! (I tell you, I make tons of homonym mistakes, as when I called the class roster a rooster, and said that something funny cracked me down!)
    Enjoy your first time with Never LMG.
    I did think of Tolkien, and my thoughts went to how disappointed some readers may have been if they were anticipating something similar to Tolkien. The treatment is quite different, but the comparison is, as my girls love to say, “legit”.
    Thanks for comments, I am very grateful for them, I enjoy knowing about people, and thanks to this I now know something special about you.
    Dysentery, that made me roll on the floor, hahaha.
    False homonyms afford quite a humorous time.

  7. Lovely post Silvia and thank you for sharing what Ishiguro means to you. I have to confess *whispers* that I’ve never read him, though it’s possible there is one of his books in the house somewhere…. 😉

  8. What a delightful post, Silvia, touching on so many profound points, some I can’t but help but empathise with. While I never spoke Cantonese Chinese, the nearly ten years I spent as a kid in Hong Kong meant that for a long time I viewed British culture through a kaleidoscopic lens, and even now, sixty years on, feel distanced from that culture. Nuances, and not just of language, escaped me and still occasionally do.

    Which is why I appreciate where you’re coming from and where, to a different extent, I understand Ishiguro’s approach. Much of it is to do with metaphor, with language functioning beyond its literal or even superficial symbolic level. I see it in your phrase”pray of common mistakes” for example (should be “prey to common mistakes”) where you’ve used a homonym and an alternative preposition (subtly changing the metaphor) but have rightly understood the import of the phrase. I can see how it’s possible to substitute ‘deduct’ for ‘deduce’ and for a reader not lose the sense of what you’re really saying; I once used ‘dysentery’ instead of ‘dissention’ in a schoolboy essay but my teacher knew what I meant!

    A might preamble, this, sorry! I’d love to join you but I’ve only recently read ‘Giant’ and intend to go for ‘Never Let Me Go’ next, but good luck with your reread of ‘Remains’! Incidentally, have you noticed that both ‘Giant’ and ‘The Hobbit’ begin with a hole in the ground and include trolls/orcs/giants as well as dragons? You could read ‘Giant’ as Ishiguro’s take on Tolkien’s quest theme, though with different outcomes, mood, themes and storytelling. Just saying! 🙂

  9. Good to hear, Lisa. I’m pretty sure you’d love Remains. Giant is more abstract, not for everyone. Remains is pitch perfect and a pleasure for fans of royalty and British culture.

  10. I totally understand. CONGRATULATIONS! Your plans are much more important than reading mere books, huh! And as you say, it’s never late to pick up any Ishiguro book, (or any other you like), read it, and, if it ends up being one of these, you can always read past posts.

  11. This sounds so good, but I have to pass. All my reading plans for the year are basically cancelled. I just can’t read and be pregnant at the same time. Highly annoying as I miss it so much, but I just cannot concentrate on anything. I may just read these at the end of the year, and come back to read the discussions. Have a great time reading these together!

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