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About this book

One of the most popular contemporary authors, Kazuo Ishiguro has so far produced six highly regarded novels which have won him international acclaim and honours, including the Booker Prize, the Whitbread Award and an OBE for Services to Literature.

This Reader's Guide:

• evaluates the various responses to Ishiguro's work, beginning with initial reactions, moving on to key scholarly criticism, and taking note along the way of what Ishiguro has offered
• discusses each of Ishiguro's novels, from A Pale View of the Hills (1982) to Never Let Me Go (2005)
• features three in-depth chapters on Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day (1993)
• analyses reviews, interviews and scholarly essays and articles in order to situate the novels in the context of Ishiguro's ouevre
• explores themes and issues which are central to the author's fiction, such as narration, ethics and memory.

Lucid and insightful, this is an indispensable introductory guide for anyone studying – or simply interested in - the work of this major novelist.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
One of the world’s most important contemporary writers, Kazuo Ishiguro (born 1954) has produced a body of work that has been rewarded with several top literary prizes and consistent critical praise. His first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982) received the Winifred Holtby award ‘for the best regional novel of the year’. Artist of a Floating World (1986) received even more critical attention and won the prestigious Whitbread Book of the Year award. It was, however, his third novel, The Remains of the Day (1989), which received the equally prestigious Booker Prize, that solidly established Ishiguro’s reputation. He was 34 years old. Since then his reputation has continued to grow in both English-speaking and non-English-speaking countries. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Additionally, he has screenwriting credits on three major motion films, including, most famously, The Remains of the Day, which received eight Academy Award nominations. But he remains a novelist and since Remains has produced three more novels, each demonstrating an artist pushing against the limits of what a novel can portray, and each displaying his masterly control of prose and narrative. This Guide examines the immense critical response to these six novels so that readers can better understand how Ishiguro has been read and what work remains to be done.
Matthew Beedham

Chapter One. Bad Memories: A Pale View of Hills (1982)

Abstract
Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982), was well received: it was greeted with almost universally appreciative reviews and won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. Set in England during the early 1980s, A Pale View of Hills recounts the meeting of a mother and daughter. The mother, Etsuko, is a Japanese woman who at the time of the novel’s present lives in England. Her daughter, Niki, is the product of Etsuko’s second marriage to a now-deceased Englishman named Sheringham. Niki’s visit repeatedly leads Etsuko to think back to the time shortly after the bombing of Nagasaki when she was living with her first husband, a Japanese man named Jiro, and pregnant with her first daughter, Keiko, who committed suicide sometime after moving to England. Although this brief summary may suggest a tangled narrative, the novelist and children’s author Penelope Lively (born 1933) found the novel’s style intriguing and thought the novel powerful despite its simplicity. At the same time, she found it ‘unsettling and a little baffling’. She sums up its effect as ‘one of extraordinary tension, of implied griefs and evils’.1 Similarly, Edith Milton finds Ishiguro’s novel dark and mysterious.2 Michael Wood calls it ‘a small masterpiece’.3
Matthew Beedham

Chapter Two. A Troubled Artist’s Art: An Artist of the Floating World (1987)

Abstract
Ishiguro’s second novel, An Artist of the Floating World, looks back to his first, A Pale View of Hills, and anticipates his third, The Remains of the Day. While his first novel used Japan in the aftermath of World War Two for its flashback sequences, in his second novel, this period serves as the narrator’s present. The character Ogata, the father-in-law in the subplot in A Pale View of Hills, assumes centre stage in An Artist of the Floating World, although he is now the artist Masuji Ono (a character often compared to Stevens, the narrator of Ishiguro’s third novel). Like the narrator Etsuko in his first novel and Stevens in his third, Ono, the narrator of An Artist of the Floating World, is compelled to look back on his life, a look back that extends well beyond the build-up to World War Two. Confronted by the marriage negotiations of one of his daughters, Ono embarks on an evaluation of his career to ensure that it does not prevent his daughter from marrying. Writing in the novel’s present, Ono presents the reader with four entries — dated October, 1948; April, 1949; November, 1949; and June, 1950 — but as Ono relates this narrative he is consistently drawn back into the past, to the difficulty that he had with his father, to his apprenticeship in an art studio that features cheap copies of stereotypical images of Japan, to his time in the ‘floating world’, and to his success as a painter of nationalist propaganda. Always floating on the edges of his life story, however, is the growing certainty that Ono’s narration might be unreliable: more precisely, that Ono is leaving some important information out of his account of his life.
Matthew Beedham

Chapter Three. The Remains of the Day (1993): Reception and Narration

Abstract
Ishiguro’s third novel, The Remains of the Day, was both a change and a repetition of his previous novel, An Artist of the Floating World. While his protagonist, Stevens, an English butler, might seem at first glance to be completely incomparable to his earlier protagonist, the artist Ono, and while Darlington Hall is around the world from Ono’s floating world, the two novels, at their cores, are similar. Both follow a man in the latter stages of his life looking back and trying to reconcile his past with his present. As well, both novels draw on first-person narration to tell their stories and to reveal narrators unwilling to tell their stories fully. This chapter, the first of three focused on Ishiguro’s third novel, evaluates the responses of the reviewers before turning to the key essays that have addressed Ishiguro’s use of narration in the novel.
Matthew Beedham

Chapter Four. The Remains of the Day 2: Historical and Postcolonial Readings

Abstract
Set in England in 1956 with flashbacks to a grand English estate in the years between World Wars One and Two and replete with appearances by key political figures of the time, The Remains of the Day plainly invites historical discussion. Several commentators have responded to this invitation, providing useful background information and interpretations that read the novel through a historical lens. This second chapter on the responses to Remains follows the trajectory of these readings, a trajectory that begins with the unsaid. As in A Pale View of Hills, a novel that despite the setting of its flashbacks amidst the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, mentions the bombing only twice, in Remains, the Suez Crisis, a major international conflict that dominated newspaper headlines in England, stays hidden in the background of the novel’s fictional present, unnoticed by its first-person narrator, Stevens. The crisis erupted on 26 July 1956 when Egypt’s President Nasser (1918–70), frustrated by the withdrawal of funding by Britain and the USA for the Aswan Dam, nationalised the Suez Canal, leading the USA and the co-owners of the canal, France and Britain, to first, impose economic sanctions, and shortly thereafter, conceive a plan for international control of the canal, which Nasser duly rejected. When further negotiations failed, France and Britain secretly backed an Israeli invasion of Egypt, which began on 29 October 1956, then joined the war themselves the next day. Although a military success, public condemnation of the war and American pressure rendered it a diplomatic failure, and on 9 January 1957, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (1897–1977) resigned. John Sutherland’s short chapter on the novel provides a clear and comprehensive explanation of this crisis and its timeframe. After outlining the Anglo-American context of the crisis, John P. McCombe, in a widely cited article, investigates the role of these strained tensions as they appear in the novel.
Matthew Beedham

Chapter Five. The Remains of the Day 3: Interdisciplinary Approaches

Abstract
While several scholars have used responses based on standard interpretive approaches, such as those resting on the narrative and historical elements of Remains, to extend readings of the novel in new directions, others have developed responses using interdisciplinary methods. In doing so, they not only add to our knowledge of the novel but also illuminate previously unforeseen sites for discussion. This final chapter on Remains traces these varied and compelling responses starting with the role of memory in the novel. Lillian Furst uses the anatomy of memory errors proposed by psychologist Daniel L. Schacter to power a useful investigation into problems in Stevens’s narration resulting from his faulty memory. John J. Su, in one of the most penetrating readings of the novel, starts with a look at nostalgia but then investigates the novel’s portrayal of a shift in ethos embodied in Stevens’s journey.
Matthew Beedham

Chapter Six. Who Are The Unconsoled (1995) and Where Do They Live?

Abstract
In his fourth novel, The Unconsoled (1995), Ishiguro attempts a work that at first glance differs from his earlier novels in almost every conceivable respect. Ostensibly, it recounts the visit of an internationally acclaimed concert pianist named Ryder (as with Stevens in The Remains of the Day, his first name is never given) who is visiting a city (that is not named but seems to be somewhere in the middle of Europe) to perform at a concert aimed at resolving a cultural crisis in the city (although the specifics of that crisis are never made clear). The specific details that so carefully located earlier novels in time and place are gone, but Ishiguro’s precise prose and keen ability to capture details are not. The switch in style was a deliberate artistic choice. Frustrated by critics who attempted to categorise him as a realist and who continually sought to ground his novels in their historical context, he introduced a radically new structure that has had a sharply polarising effect on readers: some find the novel baffling and boring while others have recognised its unique contribution to the representation of consciousness. Almost as long as his three previous novels combined and much more challenging to read, The Unconsoled encountered readers unable or unwilling to follow Ishiguro’s new path. Many tried simply to link the novel’s style to Franz Kafka (1883–1924) or Samuel Beckett (1906–89). Other critics have discussed the novel’s dream-like qualities and its playful representation of space and place. This chapter reviews the novel’s critical reception before moving on to describe the structural components that critics have discerned, to investigate Ishiguro’s experimental form, and to try to answer the question on the minds of most readers at the end of the novel: who are the unconsoled?
Matthew Beedham

Chapter Seven. Detecting the Past: When We Were Orphans (2000)

Abstract
For many readers, Ishiguro’s fourth novel, The Unconsoled had failed to communicate. Aware of this failure, Ishiguro set out to try again,1 an attempt that produced When We Were Orphans, the notebooks of purportedly celebrated detective, Christopher Banks, born and raised in Shanghai until being sent to England following the mysterious disappearances of, first, his father and, then, his mother. Of all Ishiguro’s novels, Orphans has instigated the most puzzling response. While most reviewers responded positively, citing, for example, the novel’s originality,2 power,3 and ‘surpassing intelligence and taste’,4 there has been considerable dissent, a situation most easily recognised in the vastly differing opinions of the two reviewers from The New York Times. While Michael Gorra, in a thoughtful review, describes the novel as Ishiguro’s ‘fullest achievement yet’,5 Michiko Kakutani begins by calling the novel ‘disappointing’.6 In her useful review, novelist Alice McDermott (born 1953) captures this bipolar response all on its own, referring to the novel as ‘by turns, brilliant and dull, absorbing and unfathomable, fascinating and a bit of a mess’.7 The scholarly response to the novel has been equally enigmatic, but in this regard, the most surprising aspect is simply the dearth of scholarship on such a complex novel. Highlighting the novel’s key critical issues, this chapter unpacks these varied responses and offers possible directions for further critical readings.
Matthew Beedham

Chapter Eight. Questioning the Possibles: Never Let Me Go (2005)

Abstract
While the response to When We Were Orphans was often puzzling, Ishiguro’s sixth novel, Never Let Me Go, met with almost unanimous critical approval and immediate scholarly interest. Critics have praised every aspect of the novel: it is ‘A masterpiece of craftsmanship that offers an unparalleled emotional experience’.1 Set in a parallel Britain, in a parallel 1990s, the novel, like all of his previous novels, uses a first-person narrator, Kathy H., who combs through memories of her past. Readers eventually realise that Kathy H. is a clone living in a boarding school with other clones who will all graduate to become ‘carers’, then ‘donors’, and after four ‘donations’, at the most, they will die. Amidst her recollections of childhood and adolescence, Ishiguro layers a story that demands a questioning of our values and ethics, and what we take for granted as truth.
Matthew Beedham

Conclusion

Abstract
This guide has aimed to include the most important readings in English of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels, a goal constantly challenged by the continuing and theoretically diverse scholarship on his work. Recently, several more analyses of Ishiguro’s work have appeared demonstrating this sustained critical interest. Three such recent essays that merit further study are by Natalie Reitano, Leona Toker and Daniel Chertof, and Lisa Fluet. Reitano provides a useful reading of The Unconsoled, arguing that it ‘fiffully interrogates the idea of a founding traumatic rupture by rethinking the relation between the memory and promise that structure any present’.1 Toker and Chertof, while attempting to explain the ef ect of the narration of Never Let Me Go on readers, discuss the features that align it with other dystopian fictions.2 Perhaps most intriguingly, Fluet examines the narrators of Ishiguro’s four most recent novels to conclude that they ‘give us access to feelings — often ugly, if not always strong — that convey not a comfortably agreed-upon idea of humanity, but rather what it might feel like to lose one’s individual sense of “me” in an impersonal, collective “we”’.3 These are promising ef orts which respond to questions established in earlier responses with original arguments that extend the discussion of Ishiguro’s fiction.
Matthew Beedham
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