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Author Study: Kazuo Ishiguro Curated by Kelly Wu '20

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

Public Opinion

“He’s got such an extraordinary range, and he writes with such restraint and control about some very big themes, about memory and the loss thereof, about war and love”

- Sonny Mehta (chairman and editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf)

Ishiguro was first recognized for his writing in 1983 as Granta magazine's best of young British writers. He was the winner of the Booker Prize in 1989, and shortlisted in 1986, 2000 and 2005. Finally, in 2017, he received the Nobel Prize in literature. Of course, the Swedish Academy's choice sparked a wide range of responses. The New York Times assessed the decision as one that  “seemed to focus on pure literary merit” while an article in the Washington Post blatantly criticized the choice: the humorless Swedes have chosen a writer of migraines for the Nobel Prize in literature, an author of twilight meditations on time and memory and mortality and cold toast by loners looking at bad wallpaper." Nevertheless, most of the responses to his win were positive.

“If you mix Jane Austen and Franz Kafka then you have Kazuo Ishiguro in a nutshell, but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix...” 

- Sara Danius (secretary of the Swedish Academy)


Literary Criticism on Notable Works

A Pale View of Hills (1982)

Being the first book Ishiguro has written and published, A Pale View of Hills's literary reception can be considered to be rather exceptional. It won the 1982 Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. Most of the criticism the novel receives centers around its ambiguous and mysterious tone. However, many also praised Ishiguro for its eerie narration.

An Artist of the Floating World (1986)

An Artist of the Floating World was Ishiguro's second book. It was a huge success and was nominated for a handful of prizes, including the Booker prize. Due to the looseness in the plot, critics have mainly pointed out the lack of movement in the novel, with one review explaining that the novel had “no indelible scenes nor moments one will recall later."

When We Were Orphans (2000)

Set in the 1930s, When We Were Orphans is about a British man who was raised in Shanghai and later returns to investigate the disappearance of his parents. Although When We Were Orphans was nominated and shortlisted for the Booker prize and Whitbread prize, it can be considered one of Ishiguro's less successful works. “It’s not my best book” said Ishiguro in an interview. Publishers such as the New York Times regarded the work as "disappointing". Despite this, many still praised Ishiguro for his venture into more daring subjects. 

The Unconsoled (1995)

The reception for this novel were very sharply divided. Considered a "daring exploration" out of Ishiguro's usual literary style, some deemed The Unconsoled as a masterpiece, such as critic John Carey, while others considered the work as one of Ishiguro's worst novels, with British journalist Tony Parsons even demanding the book to be burned. Additionally, critic James Wood once wrote that the novel “invented its own category of badness." The criticism primarily stems from the ambiguity of the writing, making the novel very difficult to understand.

The Remains of the Day (1989) and Never Let Me Go (2005)

  • The Remains of the Day was the winner of the Booker prize in 1989 and Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2005
  • Both novels are “extraordinarily readable”
  • Both received overwhelmingly positive reviews
  • The Remains of the Day was adapted into an eight-time Oscar-nominated motion picture in 1993 starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
  • Never Let Me Go was adapted into a film in 2010, directed by Mark Romanek.

“I was afraid that people would say, ‘Oh, it’s the same book again, about an old guy looking back over his life with regret when it’s too late to change things. Instead, they were saying, ‘Your books are always set in Japan; this is a giant leap for you.’ I get this with almost every book.” - Ishiguro on The Remains of the Day

The Buried Giant (2015) 

  • The New York Times praised Ishiguro for not being "afraid to tackle huge, personal themes, nor to use myths, history and the fantastic as the tools to do it." 
  • The novel came as a shock to many of his readers, especially with the built up anticipation: “A misty Arthurian epic is just about the last thing I would have seen coming.”
  • Author David Mitchell said that if he was “forced at knife point” to name his favorite Ishiguro novel, he would choose The Buried Giant for its use of fantasy and myths to explore questions about love and mortality.
  • The Newyorker criticized the novel for being "Too literal and too vague." Allegory “points everywhere but us”