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About this book

Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the finest contemporary authors who possesses that increasingly rare distinction of being a writer who is both popular with the general reading public and well-respected within the academic community. Kazuo Ishiguro: New Critical Visions of the Novels presents eighteen fresh perspectives on the author's work that will appeal to those who read him for pleasure or for purposes of study.

Established and rising critics reassess Ishiguro's works from the early 'Japanese' novels through to his short story cycle Nocturnes, paying particular attention to The Remains of the Day, The Unconsoled, When We Were Orphans and Never Let Me Go. They address universal themes such as history, memory and mortality, but also provide groundbreaking explorations of diverse areas ranging from the posthuman and 'minor literature' to ethics, science fiction and Ishiguro's musical imagination.

Featuring an insightful interview with Ishiguro himself, this collection of essays constitutes a significant contribution to the appreciation of his novels, and forms a lively and nuanced constellation of critical enquiry.

Preface by Brian W. Shaffer. Essays by: Jeannette Baxter, Caroline Bennett, Christine Berberich, Lydia R. Cooper, Sebastian Groes, Meghan Marie Hammond, Tim Jarvis, Barry Lewis, Liani Lochner, Christopher Ringrose, Victor Sage, Andy Sawyer, Motoyuki Shibata, Gerry Smyth, Krystyna Stamirowska, Motoko Sugano, Patricia Waugh, Alyn Webley.

Table of Contents


Introduction: ‘It’s Good Manners, Really’ — Kazuo Ishiguro and the Ethics of Empathy

Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the most accomplished and celebrated writers of our time. He has produced a body of best-selling work that receives consistent praise from both academic and broadsheet critics whilst appealing to a global readership. At the age of five Ishiguro arrived in the United Kingdom as a Japanese immigrant, and his work combines his unusual perspective and fine intellectual acuity to portray a wide variety of places, characters and concerns, particularly exploring the effects of class, ethnicity, nationhood, place and morality, as well as the issues surrounding artistic representation itself. He was marked out as an extraordinarily gifted graduate of the University of East Anglia’s MA in Creative Writing, and his first two, ‘Japanese’ works pointed to the emergence of a major writing talent in the early 1980s. His work was included twice in Granta magazine’s ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ list (in 1983 and 1993); his work has been translated into more than thirty languages; he has won many literary prizes; and all but one of his works has been nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize, which he won for The Remains of the Day (1989), a modern classic. This novel was adapted into an Oscar-winning blockbuster, and the adaptation of Never Let Me Go (2005) into an equally successful film further underlines the appeal of Ishiguro’s work to extraordinarily wide audiences.
Sebastian Groes, Barry Lewis

Critical Overviews


1. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Not-too-Late Modernism

In this chapter Kazuo Ishiguro’s credentials as an ‘International Novelist’ are examined and it is proposed that he is ambivalent towards the globalized, diasporic forces of postmodernism. Ishiguro’s novels can be more fruitfully aligned with the first wave of internationalism associated with the modernists. His work has affinities with the ‘High Modernism’ of Eliot, Forster and Woolf in his concern for ‘depth’ and the exploration of interior consciousness; and also with the more Continental strain of modernism that produced expressionist landscapes and skewed plots. The case is supported by close readings of The Unconsoled and Never Let Me Go in relation to concepts such as cosmopolitanism, stoicism and the objective correlative.
Patricia Waugh

2. The Pedagogics of Liminality: Rites of Passage in the Work of Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s fiction is consistently interested in the complex nature of ritual structures, which, originally, in primitive societies, were meant to replace phases of inertia in the relations between individuals and the group. In Ishiguro’s work, however, rites of passage are often interrupted, or they fail completely, due to a method of often ironical narration that reveals moral and political crises. Ishiguro’s narrators are left searching their own memories for a key to the value of their own lives, which potentially fills the inertia and assuages the guilt of their existence. Although there are hints sometimes of a consolation for the emerging loss, it is the reader who is asked to assume responsibility for perceiving the disturbing void of liminality that lies beneath their often apparently confident identity and close relation to social groups.
Victor Sage

3. Lost and Found: On the Japanese Translations of Kazuo Ishiguro

Japanese translators of the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro are faced with a number of problems, especially with those texts that are based in Japan. A Pale View of Hills, for instance, resembles not so much the Nagasaki of the late 1940s/ early 1950s as the Japanese films by Ozu depicting those times, so the ‘translation’ of the setting is not straightforward. Even the non-Japanese novels present difficulties. The narrators of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go are given a special form of ‘polite’ speech in the Japanese translations to denote their humble and distanced personas.
Motoyuki Shibata

4. ‘One Word from you Could Alter the Course of Everything’: Discourse and Identity in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Fiction

Discourse and identity have long been recognized as being intimately intertwined because language both expresses and constitutes our sense of self. At the same time, our idiolect and modes of speech contribute to how we see ourselves and shape and confirm our identity. In Ishiguro’s writing, unadorned language is correlated with honesty, whilst elaborate language is correlated with moral confusion. This chapter examines the inflexible language of Ishiguro’s insecure male narrators and contrasts it with the more supple and ethically responsive discourse of his female narrators.
Krystyna Stamirowska

The Early, ‘Japanese’, Works


5. ‘Putting One’s Convictions to the Test’: Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World in Japan

In Britain, Kazuo Ishiguro’s fictions have been received favourably from the start of his career, and his reticent writing style has proved attractive to readers. However, in Japan the translation of An Artist of the Floating World (1986) was quietly received.1 Immediate responses to Ukiyo no Gaka (1988) were focused on the readability of the translation rather than on the novel itself: the paradoxical nature of ‘retranslating’ into Japanese the original English text’s representation of Japan, and the transfiguration of Ishiguro’s understated writing style. What this discussion of form ‘repressed’, however, was the fact that it was Ukiyo’s uncomfortable subject matter that made the novel unpopular, because it confronted readers in post-war Japan with the debate about the ‘war responsibility’ of the nation.
Motoko Sugano

6. ‘Cemeteries are no Places for Young People’: Children and Trauma in the Early Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s early novels excavate traumas created by war and corruption, and one way of understanding the psycho-social behaviour and internal devastation of the adult characters is by tracing their relationships with children. Adults, such as Etsuko in A Pale View of Hills (1982) and Ono in An Artist of the Floating World (1986), are unwilling to face up to the past and regress and behave like children as a strategic evasion of their responsibilities. This chapter argues that the divisions between their younger and older selves are often blurred, resulting in generational conflicts that can also be seen as an analogy for a post-war global politics in which the presence of the new, dominant power, such as the United States, has an infantilizing effect upon former imperial centres such as Japan and England.
Caroline Bennett

The Remains of the Day


7. ‘I Can’t Even Say I Made my Own Mistakes’: The Ethics of Genre in Kazuo Ishiguro’s the Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is, simultaneously, a travel narrative and road novel; an autobiography and apologia for a life’s work; a struggle with the impulse to lie; a state-of-the-nation novel; a love story and a romance; and, sometimes, a confession. The ageing speaker, Stevens, moves through these various narrative modes in order to make sense of his memories of his days as a butler at Darlington Hall in the years before the Second World War. The tension, and sometimes slippage, between genres reveals Stevens’s desire to communicate his life story and justify a lifetime of self-denial and role-playing. His inability to establish a stable narrative logic, however, also spells his failure as a narrator of selfhood. Ishiguro’s novel poses a set of challenging questions about the nature and uses of genre in relationship to the ethics of narration. Ultimately, Stevens proves incapable of constructing an acceptable life story or of atoning for his past mistakes because he has passed his life refusing to self-narrate.
Meghan Marie Hammond

8. Novelistic Practice and Ethical Philosophy in Kazuo Ishiguro’s the Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go

Stevens, a butler and the narrator of The Remains of the Day, and Kathy, a clone created to donate organs and the narrator of Never Let Me Go, describe their respective careers as evidence that they have achieved ‘dignity’. The narrators directly address the reader, inviting sympathy, but the novels’ narrative structures undermine the reader’s ability to sympathize as the narratives provide evidence that Stevens and Kathy in fact became complicit in the atrocities committed by their respective societies. These two novels thus suggest that even in the most repressive, autonomy-denying, social systems, every individual still possesses the ethical obligation to stand against inhumanity by practising compassion.
Lydia R. Cooper

9. Kazuo Ishiguro’s the Remains of the Day: Working Through England’s Traumatic Past as a Critique of Thatcherism

Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day examines the appeasement politics pursued by Britain in the 1930s and the popular support for the German and Italian fascists amongst the aristocracy. It does so with the benefit of a hindsight denied to Nancy Mitford and P. G. Wodehouse, who dealt with these trends in their fiction at a time much closer to the events they describe. Ishiguro uses his temporal advantage to present a subtle analysis of how appeasement flourished not just because of the active involvement of key players in large country houses, such as Lord Darlington, but also because of the passive acquiescence of the general populace, such as Stevens. Ishiguro’s novel can also be read as a critique of mythologies about Englishness and how they operated in Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s.
Christine Berberich

The Unconsoled


10. Into the Labyrinth: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Surrealist Poetics in the Unconsoled

The Unconsoled (1995) is Kazuo Ishiguro’s most experimental novel to date. The kind of experimentalism at work in this novel, however, is not easy to pin down, vacillating between postmodernism, fantasy and realism. ’Surreal’ and ‘surrealist’ have also been used as standard terms by reviewers and critics attempting to describe the spatio-temporal and experiential dislocations of The Unconsoled, yet no critical move has been made to consider Ishiguro’s surrealist poetics and politics. This chapter, therefore, situates The Unconsoled’s experimental aesthetics within the artistic and intellectual tradition of surrealism.
Jeannette Baxter

11. ‘Waiting for the Performance to Begin’: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Musical Imagination in the Unconsoled and Nocturnes

Kazuo Ishiguro shares a preoccupation with music common amongst his generation of writers, but he is unusual in his awareness of the representational problems that occur when writing about music. In The Unconsoled (1995), the traditional power of music as a consoling discourse that can heal the traumatized subject is deflated because in the modern world consolation resides not in the consummate moment of artistic performance, but in the multitudinous moments that comprise everyday life. The ‘album’ of interrelated stories Nocturnes (2009) may likewise be located within a tradition of fiction in which music is a key consideration at a thematic and formal level. Nocturnes is a profoundly musical text that functions as a subtle exposition and an affirmation of what it means to be ‘human’ in the modern world.
Gerry Smyth

12. ‘Into Ever Stranger Territories’: Kazuo Ishiguro’s the Unconsoled and Minor Literature

While writing The Unconsoled (1995), Kazuo Ishiguro was frustrated by critical approaches to his earlier work that centred on its purported ‘realism’. This chapter explores how The Unconsoled fulfils his intention to journey into ever stranger territories by focusing on the novel’s engagement with the work of the canonical modernist writer Franz Kafka. The Unconsoled is an exploration, partly allegorical, partly direct, of the crisis facing a major, established artist who wishes to pursue an experimental aesthetic. Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s concept of ‘minor literature’ informs the discussion.
Tim Jarvis

When we Were Orphans


13. ‘In the End it Has to Shatter’: The Ironic Doubleness of Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans

This chapter investigates those many different forms and layers of irony in Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans (2000), arguing that Ishiguro’s use of ironic doubleness, which highlights the way in which Christopher Banks’s triumphs are haunted by disaster and humiliation, prevents any closed reading. The counterpointing of Banks’s successes and failures, and the text’s ironic contradictions, remains challenging to the end, offering a profound uncertainty about the limits of knowledge in the modern world.
Christopher Ringrose

14. ’shanghaied’ Into Service: Double Binds in When We Were Orphans

This chapter looks closely at the psychological state of the main protagonist of When We Were Orphans, Christopher Banks. It suggests that his disturbance is a direct result of the social and economic contradictions he and his family experienced whilst living in Shanghai in the early part of the twentieth century (Banks’s father worked for Morganbrook and Byatt, a firm that supplied opium to the Chinese and against which his mother campaigned). By using Gregory Bateson’s concept of the double bind, Webley casts light on both Banks’s obsession with the disappearance of his parents and his subsequent vocation as a detective.
Alyn Webley

Never Let Me Go


15. The Concertina Effect: Unfolding Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

This chapter explores Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and its artful deployment of memory in structuring the ‘pleated’ shape of its narrative. Although superficially about clones, the novel’s true concerns are those of mortality and value. By looking in detail at the passages concerning the Judy Bridgewater cassette, the chapter will demonstrate the novel’s ‘concertina effect’, or the way that Kathy’s memories fold into each other and gradually unfold as the story progresses. This narratological process mirrors the compressed lives of the protagonists, whose reduced life-span stands in a metaphorical relationship to that of normal human beings.
Barry Lewis

16. ’something of a Lost Corner’: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Landscapes of Memory and East Anglia in Never Let Me Go

This chapter shows that Kazuo Ishiguro’s depiction of landscapes evokes questions about the relationship between personal and collective memory, knowledge and consciousness, time and trauma. His landscapes present the tragically limited protagonists with a means to gain self-knowledge, which they never actually achieve because there is a gap between traditional forms of knowledge and a modernity in which gaining knowledge is increasingly problematic. After situating Never Let Me Go in a tradition of writing East Anglia, this chapter demonstrates how Ishiguro aims to bridge this divide. It ends by pointing out that buried within Never Let Me Go’s East Anglia we find a dense layering of dark images drawn from hypercanonic modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett.
Sebastian Groes

17. ‘This is What We’Re Supposed to Be Doing, Isn’t It?’: Scientific Discourse in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) can be read as a criticism of the potentially pernicious influence of scientific discourse and the Enlightenment tradition on notions of the human within contemporary culture. Raised at Hailsham, the clones’ separation from shared social structures dehumanizes them in the view of the rest of society while the carefully orchestrated manipulation of language and knowledge result in a fatal lack of self-determination. Exploring love, friendship and community against a suggested background of biotechnology, Ishiguro posits the novel itself as a form of culture that can recuperate ‘the human’ from science’s purely mechanistic and materialistic definitions.
Liani Lochner

18. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and ‘Outsider Science Fiction’

The term ‘outsider science fiction’ is used with increasing frequency to describe those novels that draw upon some of the themes, settings and imagery associated with the genre in order to explore issues more commonly associated with mainstream or literary fiction. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) can be classed as an example of such ‘outsider science fiction’. Indeed, it was shortlisted for the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award. This chapter considers how Ishiguro’s novel operates within a science-fiction register and creates the kind of ‘cognitive estrangement’ associated with the genre.
Andy Sawyer

The New Seriousness: Kazuo Ishiguro in Conversation With

Sebastian Groes: When you started out as a writer in your twenties, did you already then have a sense of an authorship that would have a clear, organic trajectory, or did that only emerge later, if at all?
Sebastian Groes
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