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Author Study: Kazuo Ishiguro Curated by Kelly Wu '20

Welcome! Explore this LibGuide to learn about author Kazuo Ishiguro.

unassuming, understated, unadorned

Praised for his prose, Ishiguro is known for his ability to realistically capture the endless layers of the human condition through his deft handling of the spoken language. Ishiguro writes about life and, more specifically, about memory. His style is very much driven by the topic he writes about, having touched upon many different genres in his literary career. He says so himself that he “tends to write the same book over and over again”.


"My subject matter doesn't vary so much from book to book. Just the surface does. The settings, etc. I tend to write the same book over and over, or at least, I take the same subject I took last time out and refine it, or do a slightly different take on it." 


His novels are mostly first person narration by an uncertain protagonist trying to recall his or her past. Since memory is frail and unreliable, Ishiguro uses passive language. Furthermore, the organization of his writing, though is somewhat chronological to plot, is loose and needs to be pieced together by the readers themselves.




Ishiguro's usage of prose help characterize the narrator. The protagonist is engaged in conversation with the readers throughout the entirety of the novel. On the other hand, he uses dialogue to build personality in his other characters. His use of literary devices is never excessive, with most of his literary devices imitating the simple hyperboles or metaphors in every day speech. 


A Short Story author, Screenwriter and Songwriter


Throughout his literary career, Ishiguro has written a number of short stories, even publishing a short story collection Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall in 2009. His style as a short story author does not differ much from his approach as a novelist. Like his novels, none of his short stories are plot heavy and most of his narrators speak with a conversational tone. However, his short stories do tend to include much more dialogue. Ishiguro  has also written a number of screenplays especially during the earlier years of his career. The stylistic approach of his first few novels were very similar to what one would see on the television, Ishiguro recognizes that in his Nobel speech: "The more I looked at it, the more my novel resembled a screenplay – dialogue plus directions." In addition to his novels, short stories, and screenplays, Ishiguro also gained recognition as a songwriter (so he did realize his dream). He wrote a number of songs on singer Stacey Kent's album "Breakfast on the Morning Tram", most of them flow like miniature stories, conveying deep emotions with soft imagery.

I should say here that I have, on a number of other occasions, learned crucial lessons from the voices of singers. I refer the actual singing. As we know, a human voice in song is capable of expressing an unfathomably complex blend of feelings. Over the years, specific aspects of my writing have been influenced by, among others, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch and my friend and collaborator Stacey Kent. Catching something in their voices, I’ve said to myself: ‘Ah yes, that’s it. That’s what I need to capture in that scene. Something very close to that.’ Often it’s an emotion I can’t quite put into words, but there it is, in the singer’s voice, and now I’ve been given something to aim for.