Kazuo Ishiguro

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Hi. I've never posted here before, so I hope I'm not being a bother. I'm reading Ishiguro for the first time (Artist of the Floating World) and am not quite sure I like it. It seems to me the narrator is senile and that everyone he encounters is making fun of him, pretending he was once important. If that's the case, then I like it. It's subtly done. If not, if it is supposed to be straight, then this is pretty boring. Can anyone provide any insight about the narrator--am I completely off--or any information about Ishiguro in general? Are there other good novels he wrote?

Alice Blanding, Monday, 29 November 2004 14:45 (eighteen years ago) link

Was it him who wrote the one about

MikeyG (MikeyG), Monday, 29 November 2004 17:11 (eighteen years ago) link

Was it him who wrote the one about pianist living in some kind of central European dreamwold? That book drove me nuts.

Hi Alice, welcome aboard.

MikeyG (MikeyG), Monday, 29 November 2004 17:13 (eighteen years ago) link

There's a brief summary on Ishiguro at Wikipedia.org and you can also look at this page which has details about the author and the book.

Kevan (Kevan), Monday, 29 November 2004 17:50 (eighteen years ago) link

I LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! When We Were Orphans, though I find it a deeply imperfect book, and an oddly dissatisfying one. But the style! Breathless!

Remy Snush (x Jeremy), Tuesday, 30 November 2004 06:37 (eighteen years ago) link

I agree about its deep imperfections and the lack of satisfaction. Because of those I don't love it. I do love Remains of the Day.

To the original poster, I haven't read that one but I'm sure what you detect is what Ishiguro was going for (not that it matters what he was going for -- if you can make the case for it, it's there!).

W i l l (common_person), Tuesday, 30 November 2004 22:10 (eighteen years ago) link

I haven't read "Floating World," either. But the three I've read (Remains, Unconsoled and Orphans) all had unreliable narrators, so what you're saying makes sense.

Not That Chuck, Wednesday, 1 December 2004 22:02 (eighteen years ago) link

The Remains of the Day is brilliant. And, I suppose, crepuscular.

the bellefox, Thursday, 2 December 2004 15:06 (eighteen years ago) link

one year passes...
What do we make of Never Let Me Go, then?

Marcello Carlin (nostudium), Friday, 2 June 2006 11:47 (sixteen years ago) link

I've only read "When We Were Orphans", but I absolutley loved that.

One review of "Never Let Me Go" suggested that, between the title and the cover, it's very likely that a whole lot of ppl will pick it up thinking it's litechicklit.

Daniel_Rf (Daniel_Rf), Friday, 2 June 2006 12:01 (sixteen years ago) link

The fact that it pops up a fair bit in our shop seems to bear out this theory. Often the books that turn up most often are the ones that look appealing to the lady reader looking for something light, but then turn out to be heavy. See also The Blind Assassin.

Have you read it, Marcello? What did you think of it? Please tell me without giving loads away, because I haven't read it yet, although it's on The Pile.

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Friday, 2 June 2006 12:08 (sixteen years ago) link

I liked it, though I think it had some problems. I don't think Ishiguro the relationship between the central group of characters and the rest of the world really worked, but the intra-group relationships were very well done.

Ray (Ray), Friday, 2 June 2006 12:29 (sixteen years ago) link

I've written a bit about it here - typically in the context of a piece which is supposed to be about something else entirely, but that's the way my winding mind works, for better or worse. I've done my best not to give too much of the underlying plot away, but no doubt enterprising readers will work it out easily.

The last page is particularly terrifying, all the more so because of its outward placidity, and the underlying horror which I think is really being suggested.

Marcello Carlin (nostudium), Friday, 2 June 2006 12:50 (sixteen years ago) link

I haven't read Never Let Me Go, but I talked a bit about When We Were Orphans here.

o. nate (onate), Friday, 2 June 2006 14:21 (sixteen years ago) link

I find the title incredibly exciting! I will read it, I think.

Gravel Puzzleworth (Gregory Henry), Friday, 2 June 2006 16:06 (sixteen years ago) link

yeah it's a good title alright. i pretty much hated "the remains of the day". i reckon the reason he's so keen on unreliable narrators is because he can't write convincingly about his characters or milieu. i'm very interested in reading this new book though.

jed_ (jed), Friday, 2 June 2006 23:12 (sixteen years ago) link

I really loved "Never let me go" when I read it. I actually read it twice in a week (well, more because it was the only book I had with me in the mountains with obviously not a single bookshop nearby). Went on to read "Remains of the day" which I enjoyed, but not as much as NLMG. I'm trying to read "The Unconsoled" right now, but am really not liking it. There are a few good things in it, but the way all the characters go on and on for pages about the most minute of details of their lives is just annoying the hell out of me. I'm actually afraid of picking up another on of Ishiguro's book as I've liked each one less than the previous.

Jibé (Jibé), Sunday, 4 June 2006 17:14 (sixteen years ago) link

I loved the Unconsoled and Remains of the Day, but couldn't get through his earlier books. i should try later ones, i suspect.

kyle (akmonday), Monday, 5 June 2006 00:26 (sixteen years ago) link

The Unconsoled is incredible, I don't get the hate for it, especially with all the respect Haruki Murakami gets. I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and found it quite unsatisfying, a kind of uncomfortable half-way house between reality and fantasy. That's pretty much what I thought about When We Were Orphans too; but The Unconsoled is totally dream-like, with no concessions to reality, and it's just magical.

I understand Never Let Me Go is vaguely sci-fi, but is it otherwise realistic? I'd be tempted to give it a go if so.

ledge (ledge), Tuesday, 6 June 2006 13:54 (sixteen years ago) link

The underlying concept of Never Let Me Go is sci-fi, but the telling of the tale was not, to me, sci-fi. Quiet horror at the fate of the characters engulfed me as I read this; it's very well-imagined and wholly plausible.

Jaq (Jaq), Tuesday, 6 June 2006 14:17 (sixteen years ago) link

I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and found it quite unsatisfying, a kind of uncomfortable half-way house between reality and fantasy. That's pretty much what I thought about When We Were Orphans too...

I liked that "half-way house" aspect. There are these great "through the looking glass" moments in both books, where you feel like the moorings of the narrative to reality are coming loose, it's almost like vertigo.

o. nate (onate), Tuesday, 6 June 2006 15:25 (sixteen years ago) link

The cover on the U.S. paperback is tremendously ugly - so ugly it's keeping me from buying the book just because I don't want to have to look at that thing sitting on my night table.

Jeff LeVine (Jeff LeVine), Friday, 9 June 2006 19:43 (sixteen years ago) link

Never Let Me Go was brilliant--such a slow burning feeling of dread and horror builds up throughout the entire book, even though you know more or less what is going to happen. In fact that's what gives it power, the way that the characters have made themselves blind to, and hopeful despite, what is, to the reader, obviously going to happen to them.

One review of "Never Let Me Go" suggested that, between the title and the cover, it's very likely that a whole lot of ppl will pick it up thinking it's litechicklit.

Plus the back cover blurb is barely related to the content of the book. I know partially this is because publishers always try to disguise the SF-ness of SF-ish literary novels but that alone can't explain how off it is.

Raw Patrick (Raw Patrick), Wednesday, 21 June 2006 11:02 (sixteen years ago) link

i thought this was absolutely atrocious, undoubtedly one of the worst books i've ever finished. badly written and with so many plot holes it was just impossible to suspend your disbelief. i'll say more later when i have time but i'm just astonished that anyone could think it was good.

jed_ (jed), Wednesday, 21 June 2006 14:23 (sixteen years ago) link

While I didn't think this was awful, by any stretch, it did little for me. I found that I couldn't believe too much in the characters and therefore couldn't care about them. Of course, perhaps that makes me one of THEM and I have no soul, but I'm not sure. I could see the places in it where I was supposed to be touched, but it never touched me.

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Wednesday, 21 June 2006 15:56 (sixteen years ago) link

Bump, bcz I want jed to do his demolition!

Raw Patrick (Raw Patrick), Thursday, 22 June 2006 07:26 (sixteen years ago) link

i promise to do this i just don't want to think about it any more just yet.

jed_ (jed), Friday, 23 June 2006 14:28 (sixteen years ago) link

I've only read Orphans, but that made me want to read more. The narrator's climactic scramble through the bombed-out city with mistaken-identity delusions rising to a fever-pitch was a hair-raising tour-de-fucking-force.
I think I have NLMG in my pile. The pile is so big, and has so many different locations, I don't know. The intention is there.

Beth Parker (Beth Parker), Saturday, 24 June 2006 02:11 (sixteen years ago) link

Ah, come on, read it. Join in. It's fun!

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Saturday, 24 June 2006 07:30 (sixteen years ago) link

Okay, as soon as I finish the next 15 or so books in the Terry Pratchett Discworld series. Shouldn't take long (I'm serious—I was devouring one a day on vacation. Back in the real world I've slowed down a bit. Gimme a month).

Beth Parker (Beth Parker), Monday, 26 June 2006 00:58 (sixteen years ago) link

I didn't think Never let me go that much, I thought it was a bit superficial, just link accentmonkey I just wasn't touched. I liked the beginning though, when you notice all these little weird things, but don't know what to make of them. It bothered me that the 'students' didn't try anything to change their lives.

Ionica (Ionica), Monday, 26 June 2006 07:56 (sixteen years ago) link

think = like (of course)

Ionica (Ionica), Monday, 26 June 2006 08:02 (sixteen years ago) link

What could they possibly do to change their lives?

Raw Patrick (Raw Patrick), Monday, 26 June 2006 11:48 (sixteen years ago) link

Opt out of the whole process? Run away and hide somewhere? Start a campaign to end the sick practice of "donations"? But they didn't even consider those as possibilities, it just wasn't in their nature. There was something very childlike and underdeveloped about them; about they way they dealt with emotions, the way they talked about sex, their passive and unquestioning acceptance of their fate. And that could have been because for whatever reason, the cloning process meant that they were, in some way, incomplete people - but I think it's more that that's just what characters in Ishiguro books are like. They do tend to be childlike, they do have overly simplistic outlooks on life - I think it's just the mechanism he uses to explore his themes of relationships and emotions.

ledge (ledge), Monday, 26 June 2006 11:58 (sixteen years ago) link

I liked it btw, but I thought having it all narrated by that one character, and focussing almost entirely on her friends, was rather limiting. I can't help but compare it to The Unconsoled, which is similar in some ways, but just vastly more epic, and detailed, and inventive, and for me, far more moving.

ledge (ledge), Monday, 26 June 2006 12:10 (sixteen years ago) link

Opt out of the whole process? Run away and hide somewhere? Start a campaign to end the sick practice of "donations"?
Thanks Ledge, exactly what I meant! Those things do happen in Spares from Michael Marshall Smith (and probably in quite some other books I haven't read...).

Ionica (Ionica), Monday, 26 June 2006 13:11 (sixteen years ago) link

Opt out of the whole process? Run away and hide somewhere? Start a campaign to end the sick practice of "donations"?

They were about as likely to do this as I am likely to do the same things about my crappy job and I think that was part of the whole point. It would have involved a way of thinking that was beyond the whole world as understood by them. A book where they led some sort've resistance would have been a wholly different book, amd a book that has been written a lot more than this one has. It would have been a cop-out that told lies about the world.

Raw Patrick (Raw Patrick), Monday, 26 June 2006 13:48 (sixteen years ago) link

I don't think so. Sure, some would have been quietly accepting of their fate, but nobody ran away? Nobody protested? The main characters didn't even consider it?
And I didn't believe the behaviour of the rest of the world either. There were no abolitionists, or ALF? There were no protests at the clinics? There were no attacks on the donors? There were no donor/other affairs?

Even comparing their situation to your crappy job (and you know, your job is not that crap), not everyone just continues going to work every day. Some people get on a different bus in the morning and end up in Ulan Bator. Some people bring a shotgun into work. Some people embezzle money and run to the Caribbean. Lots of people form or join unions, and fight for better working conditions. But the donors did none of these things.

Ray (Ray), Monday, 26 June 2006 13:56 (sixteen years ago) link

I think I agree with Patrick here, yeah there are things they could have done, and that most people would have done, but that they didn't is the point - it's a kind of magical realism, albeit a strange and dull kind of magic which makes people blind to the obvious. And maybe it was trying to make a point about people being unaware of the need for change, either in their personal lives or in the wider world.

ledge (ledge), Monday, 26 June 2006 14:20 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm having a hard time seeing it as magical realism.

And if it was trying to make a point... well, who is it that needs to change but doesn't? Not people in their ordinary working lives, because they do change sometimes (and think about changing a lot of the time). Not people faced with the same kind of deadline as the donors, because they usually do whatever they can to change their situation. So who should be drawing a lesson from this?

Ray (Ray), Monday, 26 June 2006 14:51 (sixteen years ago) link

yeah i think one reason this book is so poor is that it's just not thorough enough. Ishiguro just hasn't thought the thing through properly. surely one point of writing science fiction or (alternative society fiction) would be to change one major thing about a society and then consider how the rest of said society might change as a result of this massive change? Ishiguro opts out by having the rest of the society, what we see of it, virtually unchanged. how would a britain that has farmed human organ donors differ from britain as we know it now? sadly Ishiguro can't be bothered thinking about this.

as i read the novel i was just baffled that the huge plot holes weren't going to be registered by the characters & author let alone resolved. the main one, of course, is: WHY THE HELL DON'T THEY JUST DISSAPPEAR INTO SOCIETY? since they seem to be similar to humans in every way possible it seems like an easy option but Ishiguro doesn't even raise it in order to dismiss it, he just doesn't acknowledge it as an option.

plot hole number 2, as i see it, is that after being surveilled 24 hours a day (to the point where Kath and Tommy find it difficult to meet up somewhere on the grounds of the school where they can talk in private) they are sent away, at school leaving age, to live on communes with absolutely no security at all. can someone explain to me exactly what, in their situations, changes in order to allow these characters almost total freedom after being locked up for all of their formative years? and why doesn't it change the characters outlooks except in the most superficial ways? why doen't it make them realise that they could dissappear without question? and crucially, what is it that makes them acquiesce at some stage with tyhe whole donor project by giving themselves up as donors, knowing what it will lead to?

another problem: the link between the art work they do + "The Gallery" (ahem), on the one hand, and this notion they have that it might be linked in some way to some possibility of deferrment (FROM CERTAIN DEATH!!!!) starts off puzzling then ends up completely ludicrous! because 1. how could they be linked anyway, even in the characters' somewhat underdeveloped notions of society? 2. if you and your partner were looking at certain death you may wish for more than a "deferrment" from it and 3. when the link becomes clear, as much as it does, it ends up being part of the only meagre resistance movement that exists in defence of the donors - to wit: "this practice is inhumane because, well, look at these pretty pictures!". it's baffling.

BUT BUT BUT. this isn't the main reason the book is bad. it's bad because of the abolutely atrocious writing. line for line this is one of the most poorly written novels i've ever finished. it doesn't seem convincing to say that it's badly written because it's written by Kath (there is no real reason why Kath should be a bad writer considering that she is fairly well read*) it's simply badly written because of Ishiguro.

i'll pick out some howlers (as i see them) when i have the book to hand.


jed_ (jed), Monday, 26 June 2006 14:56 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm having a hard time seeing it as magical realism.

More like a dream state then - imagine a dream or a nightmare where the most bizarre and nonsensical things happen. Regardless of whether or not you try to change them, you never question why they're happening, you never say to yourself "this is insane!", you just accept that that's how things are.

That's why the obvious plot holes and the strange acceptance of the characters don't worry me - he's not trying to write a "what-if" sci-fi novel, it's all just a device to explore how people react to each other, and the situations they find themselves in, in a much more abstract way.

ledge (ledge), Monday, 26 June 2006 15:18 (sixteen years ago) link

But in a dream state character relationships are all weird too, surely? What kind of dream is it that you have consistent, meaningful conversations and relationships with a select group of people, but everything else is crazy?

Ray (Ray), Monday, 26 June 2006 15:22 (sixteen years ago) link

He's put these characters in this strange situation, made them unable to deal with it or even perceive its strangeness, and then seen how they deal with *that*. And, uh, that's just the way it is. I can see how you might see this as an extremely shoddy cop-out.

ledge (ledge), Monday, 26 June 2006 15:29 (sixteen years ago) link

And yes it is in a sense badly written, but I do blame that entirely on Kath - being well-read is by no means a guarantee of being a good writer. And it's not even that bad - it's exceedingly simple, often clumsy, much like everything else the characters do - and in that way it's really quite touching.

ledge (ledge), Monday, 26 June 2006 16:06 (sixteen years ago) link

i'm not saying that beng well read makes you a good writer, i'm saying that there's no reason for Kath to be a bad writer other than that Ishiguro is one. I'm not swallowing this "dream state" excuse for why the plot doesn't add up either.

jed_ (jed), Monday, 26 June 2006 17:01 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm having a hard time seeing it as magical realism.

Perhaps you don't need to. I mean, a lot of Jews accepted their fate under the Nazis and just kind of went along with it. One could argue that people's lives are being directed and manipulated towards their own accelerated destruction everywhere, every day, and they just go along with it.
It's not so much the fact that they didn't do anything that bothered me. It's that they didn't even talk about doing anything. That would have seemed more realistic to me, I think.

Why the hell don't they disappear into society? Because they can't. Maybe they look different, we don't know. But they certainly behave differently. They don't know how shops operate, or ordinary relationships, or what jobs are even out there, never mind what they themselves could do. And they are also pampered and privileged and sheltered for a long time before they start their 'donations', by which time it's too late.
They remind me of the rabbits in Watership Down who lived in the lovely warren and were sleek and well-fed and had invented an elaborate belief system for themselves and did not run away from the snare, because that was the trade off.
Hmm, I might just be talking myself round to liking this book a little bit more than I did before. Thanks, ILB.

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Monday, 26 June 2006 18:15 (sixteen years ago) link

they don't look different - we know that from the one time we witness them go as a group to visit Ruth's model (or whatever they call it in the book) they spend an afternoon being fairly inconspicuous while they scope out the situation then they go to a gallery to look at paintings and the gallery proprieter asks them "are you are students?". also each of them spends a while being a carer (Kath is good at this so spends longer being a carer than the rest of them) which involves driving round the country lookina after donors during which time kath lives in her own flat and has her own car. i don't know where you get the impression that "They don't know how shops operate, or ordinary relationships, or what jobs are even out there". the books leaves so many details opaque but it's clear that they lead fairly normal lives for at least a while before they become donors. i guess all this just accents my main problem with the book though: that it hasn't been thought through thoroughly.

jed_ (jed), Monday, 26 June 2006 19:13 (sixteen years ago) link

I don't insist that the book is about their attempts to escape their fate, but the fact that they don't even think about it is a problem. They have fantasies about working in offices, and they have fantasies about getting deferrals, but they don't have fantasies about catching rare diseases that mean they're useless as donors and can have normal lives, working in offices. They don't even think about bargaining, they don't even make half-assed attempts at running away, and they don't commit suicide.
Nor do they spend much time rationalising their situation. Their carers seem to be the ones concerned with the trade-off, they just accept it all. Better to go to this school than this other school, but whichever school you go to, you will be a donor.
I could kind of accept them not thinking about it, or discussing it, at school, the tactic of 'telling without telling' might actually work, to some extent. But somewhere between finishing school and making the first donation, all, most, or some of those people are going to ask themselves what the hell they're doing.
And that's just the donors' side. Everybody they meet is almost as accepting of what's going on. I really don't believe that Madamoiselle is the most radical of the anti-donors.

Ray (Ray), Monday, 26 June 2006 19:46 (sixteen years ago) link

sorry, should be "I really don't believe that Madamoiselle would be the most radical of the anti-donors.

Ray (Ray), Monday, 26 June 2006 19:47 (sixteen years ago) link

P.S. Do think that WWWO's falling action and final scenes are a bit disappointing after the dizzying climax in the mazelike, bombed-out ghetto. Christopher's attempt to put things back in the box (so to speak) ring true, but undercut the power of what came before. And while it's hard to tell whether we're meant to accept the final reveal as the truth or just as a more subdued symptom, it's at least a mild letdown either way. Still, I liked the book enough to overlook these few small flaws.

contenderizer, Monday, 11 August 2008 18:12 (fourteen years ago) link

I do think one problem with the switching back between unreliable narrator games and realistic historical detail in WWWO is that it can frustrate the reader's expectations. It would be interesting to read a straight historical novel about the Battle of Shanghai. It would also be interesting to read a psychological novel about an unreliable narrator who thinks he's a great detective. However, switching between the two, sometimes you might end up with the worst of both worlds - the surreal elements interfere with the interweaving of historical details and textures that transport us back in time, and the historical elements run the risk of seeming arbitrary and unrelated to the psychological inner story.

o. nate, Monday, 11 August 2008 21:08 (fourteen years ago) link

...the surreal elements interfere with the interweaving of historical details and textures that transport us back in time, and the historical elements run the risk of seeming arbitrary and unrelated to the psychological inner story.
The former isn't a problem for me. In fact, the subversion of genre expectations and functions is a big part of what I like about the novel. I'm in it more for the surrealism and the discontinuity of elements than for the sense of being transported back in time. Anyway, I think the two coexist well enough for both to work. But the latter is crucial. I'm not sure that the historical narrative had much to do with Christopher's journey, but then again, I'm not sure that it didn't. I need to work that part through a bit more. Worth noting that Christopher frequently vents his "disgust" over the way that the denizens of the International Settlement avoid any admission of their own complicity in the destruction of Shanghai/China, while at the same time being equivalently blind to what's really going on around him, to his own inner workings, and to the effect his selfish decisions have on others. SPOILER: Following that thread, I think we're perhaps supposed see a connection between Christopher's situation and that of the I.S. in that they're both supported by what amounts to rape. Then there's the way the quest that takes Christopher out of the Settlement and into the city around it mirrors both the final disintegration of his sanity and also end of the era that birthed the Settlement itself.

It may not all work, and having had a day or so to think things over, I'm willing to concede that, whatever it's metaphorical implications, the handling of the final revelation regarding what really happened to Christopher's parents is probably a huge mistake on Ishiguro's part. It undercuts the terrible destabilization the preceding narrative had acheived in favor of something much less satisfying (if not quite as tidy as it might seem).

contenderizer, Monday, 11 August 2008 23:50 (fourteen years ago) link

one year passes...

I just finished Never Let Me Go - for the second time, it turns out, as I'd read it a couple of years ago when someone lent it to me and told me what it was about. This time I was browsing the library and didn't recognise the name, and the blurb on the back didn't sound anything like what I'd remembered from the book, so I didn't realise.

I'd had most of the arguments on this thread running through my head as I was reading - ultimately it is slightly frustrating, but I think I fall on the side of "The cleverest, saddest aspect of the novel is the limit upon their imaginings." I've grown to really hate the style of novel where some secret is kept right until the end and the reader's main interest is figuring it out rather than caring about the characters. I don't think this book suffers too much from this, although the 'final confrontation' was slightly forced & formulaic.

I actually quite like the writing style, it exudes a childlike quality (although I could happily never read the phrase "as I say..." again). I thought all the little observations of, say, Ruth's actions were really well-written and touched a chord with me.

Slightly puzzled by the suggestion that the clones might/might not be distinguishable from "humans" - surely they are just the equivalent of a twin? I wonder if the flatness or immaturity is meant to be nature or nurture - I saw it as a result of how they'd been very carefully raised. That said I was half expecting one of the characters to hang themselves or something at the end. I noticed they never talk about love either, just 'being in a couple'.

My only other criticism is that I found it weird that the author would so overtly have the character say several times "I thought there was something darker underlying XYZ" - strikes me as superficial and lazy rather than giving us the feeling of 'darkness' himself. I guess without that kind of realisation by Kathy it would have been *too* flat and unfeeling. I don't know.

Not the real Village People, Tuesday, 30 March 2010 01:29 (twelve years ago) link

OK I don't know what I was thinking when I said they don't mention "love" as the whole last bit hinges around convincing people they're in love, but they don't *talk* about it convincingly or seem to have a grasp of what it is (hence Tommy's idea that you can prove it with the art). I guess that's the point he was trying to make..?

Not the real Village People, Tuesday, 30 March 2010 01:40 (twelve years ago) link

Also, just finished The Unconsoled, would be interested in anyone's ideas as to WTF it was all about.

Not the real Village People, Friday, 9 April 2010 18:50 (twelve years ago) link

in a more revealing but excised last chapter, the action switches to a domestic setting, where a young man is sat at a kitchen table. a calendar on the wall is turned to june. the young man with sagging shoulders stares at the back of a novel, a mixture of loss and confusion in his eyes. outside the kitchen window, a british man of japanese descent points and laughs at the young man, while autumn leaves fall around him.

aarrissi-a-roni, Friday, 9 April 2010 19:13 (twelve years ago) link


Up until about halfway through I was sure there was going to be some kind of real-world hint about it all, or I dunno, he was in a coma or something. Then I realised that probably wasn't going to happen, but I thought all the recurring and hinted-at events would culminate in something. For instance, I was sure there was going to be some car crash involving the kid Boris as there are refs to vertebrae breaking and his neck contracting and a few other things. Or we'd find out something about what his old school friend wasn't allowed to tell him.

I kind of like the dreaminess and characters but it seemed like there were tons of metaphors at play that I just didn't get.

Not the real Village People, Friday, 9 April 2010 19:43 (twelve years ago) link

I dunno man I think it's pretty straightforwardly just about LIFE and our basic inability to connect with anyone else... what's that quote along the lines of "we are all alone but it's important to keep on making gestures through the glass"? The message in The Unconsoled seems to be that the gestures are usually misinterpreted and largely futile. The dreaminess is just a way to let the protagonist experience - and inflict - this barrage of emotional torment without having to worry too much about the strictures of space and time and basic day-to-day plausibility.

When I put it like that it makes the book seem like a massive downer but, well, it is! I mean there's lols throughout but overall I do not come away from it filled with joie de vivre and love for my fellow man.

the big pink suede panda bear hurts (ledge), Friday, 9 April 2010 22:32 (twelve years ago) link

And not just about miscommunication, but poor self knowledge as well - or rather a lack of objectivity, how we place massive demands and expectations on other people but don't live up to what they demand of us.

the big pink suede panda bear hurts (ledge), Friday, 9 April 2010 22:38 (twelve years ago) link

I read it straight after 'Never Let Me Go' so was kind of primed to be looking for 'clues' about this world, that probably affected my reading of it.

There are so many specific touches that seem personal to one person or character but yet don't really shed any light - like the number of times Boris says "This book is great- it shows you everything" [meta-lol]. To me it seems that the general states everyone slips in and out of, and the nicely detailed relationships, were enough to create the point you make, yet these specific details were on top of all of that but I couldn't tell why. All the stuff about the city having problems, and the changing perceptions of their past leaders, seemed so far removed from the 'personal' introspective aspect of the book that I was sure it had to be some kind of metaphor.

Not the real Village People, Saturday, 10 April 2010 01:34 (twelve years ago) link

Maybe it's a metaphor that unasks your question - the city hoping that art will save it but it all comes to naught = do not look for answers in art! Although that's so nihilistic and self-contradictory I don't want to buy it.

Tbh I'm such a surface reader it's almost embarrassing, I'm hopeless at uncovering metaphors, pretty happy to just enjoy stuff at face value.

the big pink suede panda bear hurts (ledge), Sunday, 11 April 2010 13:23 (twelve years ago) link

three months pass...

REALLY liked this. Hater's got it wrong.

Romeo Jones, Thursday, 29 July 2010 16:54 (twelve years ago) link

Gonna be made into a movie too. Trailer looks allright, but I'm scared it's gonna suck because it's by the guy who directed "one Hour Photo," that movie where Robin Williams works in a photomat and goes psycho.

Romeo Jones, Thursday, 29 July 2010 16:56 (twelve years ago) link

three years pass...

Don't know that the film is wholly successful--it's so locked into a certain mood, it's a little flat--but I liked that it doesn't alter what I assume is the novel's ending (haven't read it), and I did, thanks it part to the score, connect with that mood. A even bleaker dystopia than Children of Men, I'd say, which I just saw last week (and which flinches at the end).

clemenza, Sunday, 15 June 2014 13:00 (eight years ago) link

I read Remains yesterday! What a completely successful novel.

Gravel Puzzleworth, Sunday, 15 June 2014 14:51 (eight years ago) link

that is one of my favourite books, I re-read it recently and if anything it was better the second time around.

Angkor Waht (Neil S), Sunday, 15 June 2014 16:02 (eight years ago) link

i read 'remains' in high school and was, i think, the only person in my class who even finished it, let alone loved it. reread it last year and it's still a favorite. it seems to be a bit overlooked these days compared to his later novels, but i think it works beautifully.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Sunday, 15 June 2014 21:50 (eight years ago) link

eight months pass...

Anyone read the new one, The Buried Giant?

kinder, Thursday, 5 March 2015 09:06 (eight years ago) link

Waiting for the paperback, or library copy.

ledge, Thursday, 5 March 2015 13:54 (eight years ago) link

two years pass...

Nobel prize

nostormo, Thursday, 5 October 2017 11:31 (five years ago) link

Crikey. The Buried Giant had pages of plaudits in the paperback edition, I thought it was his worst by far. The Unconsoled is a masterpiece though.

angelo irishagreementi (ledge), Thursday, 5 October 2017 12:32 (five years ago) link

i read buried giant almost reluctantly because a lot of ppl were negative about it but i actually enjoyed it a lot. my favourite is artist of the floating world but the unconsoled is for sure his great work. that is a re-read i am saving up.

Roberto Spiralli, Thursday, 5 October 2017 13:25 (five years ago) link

anyway, congrats kazuo

Roberto Spiralli, Thursday, 5 October 2017 13:25 (five years ago) link

nine months pass...

Just read The Buried Giant - he got the Nobel after this? I liked Never Let Me Go, somehow the shoddy world-building made it sadder, and When We Were Orphans was engrossing enough to really piss me off, but this one just drifts along with nothing to grab hold of. And the amnesia thing is so lazy and poorly thought out. There’s a nice idea at the center of it but the surrounding novel feels like it barely exists.

JoeStork, Wednesday, 25 July 2018 19:56 (four years ago) link

The idea at the centre of it is the major problem - the amnesia means the characters don't have a past, so they don't have any depth. They're just hollow simulacra, repeating the same empty phrases. After I read it I leafed through Never Let Me Go and by contrast immediately had a sense of real people with hopes and fears and tangled inner lives. I'm a fan of a lot of his other work - The Unconsoled in particular is incredibly rich, perceptive, penetrating, inventive, humorous, and heartbreaking - but The Buried Giant is just really bad.

home, home and deranged (ledge), Wednesday, 25 July 2018 20:17 (four years ago) link

I've given up on maybe three books in the last 15 years and two of them were by Ishiguro. I got about four chapters into The Buried Giant before thinking "no way am I wasting a day of holiday on this". I've never been tempted to go back.

Matt DC, Wednesday, 25 July 2018 20:18 (four years ago) link

My first KI, from And The Snow Fell Softly in ILB: What Are You Reading Now Winter 2017/18

I'm reading Ishiguro's Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. I like the first one, "Crooner," especially this bit:
We went through that song, full of travelling and goodbye. An American man leaving his woman. He keeps thinking of her as he passes through the towns one by one, verse by verse, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma, driving down a long road, the way my mother never could. If only we could leave things behind like that---I guess that's what my mother would have thought. If only sadness could be like that.

The second one, "Come Rain Or Come Shine," immediately and for most of it seems even better, or different: a wild/precise dark comedy, going toward farce, then more poignant---but ending up too The Big Chill for me, off-putting and retrospectively reductive in some ways. But I def. get his range and depth, to some extent---other Ishiguro I should read---?
No clear objections to the actual The Big Chill, far as I can recall, but subsequent arts reminders of it seem too auto-generational re middle-ageing etc. (not nec. Boomer).

other Ishiguro I should read---?

I totally loved When We Were Orphans, which I don't hear anyone talk about much; I think I strongly identified with the narrator's status as an immigrant who thinks he's assimilated much more than he actually has. Remains Of The Day is good too, as you may have heard. Both feature sad unreliable narrators.

― Daniel_Rf

Tired of unreliable narrators, esp. sad, but whaddayagonnado, sigh. Will check, thanks. Also curious about his allegorical fantasy novel or straight-up fantasy novel or whatever it is.

fear unreliable narrators are kinda Ishiguro's thing? I read his fantasy novel - The Buried Giant - recently and thought it was just ok. Reminded me a lot of T.H. White.

― Daniel_Rf

dow, Friday, 27 July 2018 15:01 (four years ago) link

Starting to notice what could be called a musical effect/approach in some of the xpost Nocturnes: "Crooner"'s (apparently reliable and not too sad)narrator is a young-seeming guitarist from an unnamed, formerly "communist country," as he and other Euros ( def.incl. the trash-talking two-faced gondolier) always refer to it, culturally deprived category being more important than name. He's regarded as an anachronistic but necessary evil by anxious cafe etc. owners around the Venetian plaza: they're afraid the tourists won't see a guitar as traditional enough, even though it's antique-y as possible and the various little folk etc. ensembles sound better with it judging by wine sales etc. One day he spots an American crooner, the one his sad Mom loved from afar, wearing out his records way back in that communist country.

In "Malvern Hills," the narrator is also a young guitarist, who has left school with his little old acoustic, is unable to find work with London band, none of whom want anyone without equipment and pref. transport, especially "one of those wankers who go 'round writing songs, " which he is. He goes to stay with his sister and brother-in-law in their Malvern Hills cafe--they live upstairs, it's actually in the hills, mostly serving locals, they can't afford to pay him, but the idea is he's working for his room and board, the brother-in-law, especially, seems torn between reproaching him for not working harder and feeling guilty for expecting/depending on him to work at all (hey, he's a guest, he's a volunteer, he's family, he's working on songs dammit). Then he meets an older couple from the Continent, who are travelling musicians---pref. experimenting with Swiss folk music, but very often expected by cafe etc.owners to play and dress trad., also to play the Beatles, Carpenters, ABBA (the often loudly positive hubbie looks like Bjorn or Benny might in later middle age). They came after seeing a documentary about Elgar riding these hills on his bicycle (hub loves the look, more mercurial wife later says the area is like a little park).
So the "musical" part I meant is the way he repeats, varies, recombines elements of characterization and setting and plotting.
Also the phrasing, pacing etc. are fluid enough without every getting gushy.

dow, Friday, 27 July 2018 15:04 (four years ago) link

We went through that song, full of travelling and goodbye. An American man leaving his woman. He keeps thinking of her as he passes through the towns one by one, verse by verse, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma, driving down a long road, the way my mother never could. If only we could leave things behind like that---I guess that's what my mother would have thought. If only sadness could be like that.

I hate when novelists do this

"that song"

― Number None

"that song" in reference to a title he had just mentioned, had mentioned several times.
I like the way his narrators never tell me too much. Why, for instance, after the security guard flips the lights on in the hotel ballroom about 3 a.m. to see what the ruckus is, does the LAPD cop not more extensively question the man and woman standing on stage? They tell him they've been looking for munchies, and he does wonder aloud why room service isn't good enough for them, judging by his own experience---he's a guest too; maybe he's off duty and on vacation, just wearing a suit and carrying his badge when the guard calls, but wanting to get back to his plush room (how can a cop afford this ritzy place?) The lady he's interviewing is wearing a very fine bathrobe, the fact that she and the gentleman are wearing bandages that cover their whole heads, except for mouths and eyes, evidently working in there somewhere, are further indications of status, which he may take into account (LAPD prob knows about the context). Better to back off, for now anyway.
And maybe the guy who sees them on another night, and comes up with his own tentative explanation in the form of a question, also knows when to go about his business, in this town of endless business permutations. The co-stars of "Nocturne" mean to stay on point too, but they just have to take the scenic route, especially when they get to the "go back to cover our tracks" fallacy (not so far from "spend money to make money," a given here). But there's much more to it---not too much, just typically spare and graceful and energetically generating textured details all along, for the right number of pages, although I hope the last story won't go to a downtempo ending, as usual----its titled "Cellists," so not expecting fireworks finale.

dow, Friday, 27 July 2018 15:05 (four years ago) link

So "Cellists," the last story in xpost Nocturnes, turns out to be a strong finish. Continuing the recombinant flow, we go back to the opening "Crooner"'s setting, the Venetian Piazza San Marco, with the hopeful cafe managers and tourists and pigeons and musos. "The big Czech guy with the alto sax," mentioned by the "Crooner" guitarist-narrator, tells this one, and an American lady appears, with a secret, a talent, a calling, none of them quite the same, keep thinking she's also from a story by Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield, even, vibe-wise, Jane Bowen---but mainly she's another driving, veering, purposeful, impulsive, compulsive, improvising self-projecting muse-agents in the winter of discontent, racing the clock or feeling it, at least, one of the ones in all these stories (one's in two).
Good stuff. Could be quite different from the novels in some ways, at least judging by descriptions in the endpages of this Vintage International trade pb: grafs re An Artist of the Floating World, Never Let Me Go, A Pale View of Hills,The Remains of the Day, The Unconsoled, and When We Were Orphans.

― dow

Jane Bowles, not Bowen, of course! Sorry, Jane!

― dow

Just to confuse things further - there's an English photographer named Jane Bown. Here's a picture Bown took of Bowen:


--Ward Fowler

dow, Friday, 27 July 2018 15:09 (four years ago) link

two years pass...

Anyone else catch the documentary this weekend?

It did sadly reinforce in me the idea that his early stuff is more interesting than the later work - I will give him credit, though, for never trying to do the "well, it's not REALLY sci-fi/fantasy" thing; sadly one of the talking heads in the doc does do it for him.

The music stuff seems bad but also endearing.

The footage they showed of the Late Review (?) reviewing The Unconsoled, though, I dare you to look at that and not end up firmly in Ishiguro's corner. Allison Pearson and some other idiot just doing the worst kind of non-criticism, telling you nothing at all about the book and expecting you to guffaw at their boring zingers. Dude actually suggests Ishiguro commit ritual suicide at one point, astonishingly racist.

The stuff with the AI was dire, though that's Yentob's fault, not Ishiguro's. I'm sure A.I. will get to the point where it becomes eerie/impressive but it ain't there yet. Didn't make me feel confident about the new novel, anyway.

Sad that my personal fave, When We Were Orphans, merited nothing more than a passing mention.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 30 March 2021 11:08 (one year ago) link

Didn't know that was on, will give it a whirl. Might have to revisit WWWO at some point too. I am trepidatious about the new one, was reading the LRB review but it looked like it was going to give away the whole plot so I don't know if it was positive or not, I did get as far as the reviewer saying that The Unconsoled might be the best novel written in his lifetime which got me on side.

Ignore the neighsayers: grow a lemon tree (ledge), Tuesday, 30 March 2021 13:06 (one year ago) link

New one seems to be boldly doing warmed over versions of stuff genre SF has been considering for years as though it's somehow new and prescient.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Wednesday, 31 March 2021 00:28 (one year ago) link

^ The problem with Literary authors doing sci-fi in general, innit.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 31 March 2021 10:25 (one year ago) link

I did see the doc. I agree about the Late Review. Tony Parsons was the bad person who said the appalling thing. In those days - though I know it sounds odd - it was not at all obvious that Allison Pearson was a dreadful sociopathic lunatic bigot.

It was good, then, when John Carey said it was a masterpiece.

I still haven't even read that novel yet, I'm afraid, but I know which side I was on in that discussion.

It was indeed rather bad when another foolish person on the programme said 'of course this isn't SF, it's much better and more serious'. Surprised that happens in 2021.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 31 March 2021 18:41 (one year ago) link

Not surprised

It Is Dangerous to Meme Inside (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 7 April 2021 05:09 (one year ago) link

two weeks pass...

Klara and the Sun - it has the uncanny valley feeling present in almost all of his works, where the world is almost but not entirely the same as ours and the difference is discomfiting. It doesn't have the emotional impact of his best stuff though. There was one bit that approached The Unconsoled, where two people have an argument in a cafe. They don't hold anything back - not in the sense of screaming at each other, but in the way they say absolutely everything that is on their minds, not devoid of bitterness or enmity but unafraid of judgement, not entirely free from petty point scoring but also wanting to be seen, to have their pain recognised. Somewhere between a row and a couples therapy session. There's an emotional depth and honesty there which when he pulls it off (once or twice here, throughout The Unconsoled) is breathtaking. It's a shame the narrator here is such a cipher.

Scheming politicians are captivating, and it hurts (ledge), Wednesday, 21 April 2021 07:51 (one year ago) link

the uncanny valley feeling present in almost all of his works, where the world is almost but not entirely the same as ours and the difference is discomfiting

I think that's a really good description.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 21 April 2021 09:04 (one year ago) link

Thanks. I think it's true even for The Remains of The Day, where the sense of butlering as a self-effacing vocation is pushed beyond how it might have been at the time. Stevens reads butlering magazines and goes to (or hears of) a butlers' conference - maybe those things existed, it's by no means impossible, but they seem like an invention of Ishiguro's, a bit of a gag but also something that contributes to that world.

Scheming politicians are captivating, and it hurts (ledge), Wednesday, 21 April 2021 09:33 (one year ago) link

Very much agree. It's fascinating and bizarre how far he pushes it. Yet you also feel that this stuff may well have been real, and the surrealism would be the strangeness of real history.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 21 April 2021 13:50 (one year ago) link

On the other hand he can't create a convincing SF/fantasy world AT ALL, so maybe he's just really bad on the incidental details of life in general.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Thursday, 22 April 2021 02:18 (one year ago) link

I love THE BURIED GIANT - which could be called 'fantasy' or could be called a reworking of the realm of Arthurian romance. I don't know about 'convincing' but I don't remember having a problem with that world.

I don't think THE REMAINS OF THE DAY is at all bad on 'the incidental details of life'; quite the contrary.

the pinefox, Thursday, 22 April 2021 09:11 (one year ago) link

I just finished THE UNCONSOLED. The mystery in a way is still why it needs to be so long - but then again, it's good, so maybe that's not a bad thing.

Suppose we take this as 'fiction trying to render the condition of a dream', has it ever been bettered? The comparison would be FINNEGANS WAKE, which is sometimes, perhaps half-bakedly, described that way. I think that THE UNCONSOLED does resemble what most of us could recognise as a dream; I don't think FW does. This leads me to think that Joyce might have been, in part, trying to render an equivalent of some aspects of dreams, but only at a distorted distance. In other words FW wouldn't represent a dream any more directly than it represents waking life.

The other comparison plainly is Kafka, but I don't think Kafka is so unambiguously dreamlike; more that the dreamlike is one of his methods or instincts. But it must be true that THE UNCONSOLED is the closest thing I've read to Kafka since Kafka, including Lethem / Scholz's KAFKA AMERICANA.

I thought also of Magnus Mills' ALL QUIET ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, because of the inexorable, menacing way in which a polite, innocent sort of person is talked into doing things - jobs, errands, favours - because they're too polite to refuse. In Mills this takes over the protagonist's life entirely. In Ishiguro it's more a series of constant digressions: whenever he's made up his mind to get back on track and do something, someone else comes along and pleads with him to assist with something, and his previous urgent tasks fall away for another 30 pages.

KI is good at polite English discourse - here it's written in English, at least, though most of the characters are not English - thus endless rounds of ...

"Ah. Yes, very good. Well let me say, sir, on behalf of the orchestra and, if I may make so bold, the entire town, not to speak of community, that I, that is to say we, are most grateful for your assistance. Indeed, I would venture to say that the entire programme, thus far, has been a considerable success - not to speak of, dare I say it, sir, haha - a triumph!"

"Indeed", I replied, "And I'm most grateful to you, Mr Volkstein, for your assistance in recent days in assuring such a happy outcome. I'm confident, indeed, that the programme has gone well, under your capable stewardship. Nonetheless, Mr Volkstein, there are certain matters outstanding, which I need to clarify."

"Of course, sir. That's entirely understood, and we will indeed have plenty of time to deal with any outstanding matters after the reception. However, sir, I wonder if I could ask you, for the moment, to turn your attention to the question of the Municipal Library."

I had no recollection of any previous reference to a Municipal Library, but decided it best to press on without raising any objection. "The Library. Ah, yes. Of course."

... KI does this for page after page. It has a certain effect, makes a certain point, is comic - but once you start, it's not very difficult to keep it up. But I like the emphasis on high culture - modern classical music, etc - as part of the town's embattled attempt to claim status and confidence.

A lot more is going on, including family: the parents who are supposed to be arriving but never do, but whose much earlier previous visit to the town is then mostly happily confirmed; the incoherent relation to partner Sophie, son Boris, her father Gustav; the childhood memories of rooms and of schoolfriends turning up. And I suppose the other strength to mention is the creation of fictional spaces with impossible relations: the way that a door will open on to a quite different kind of room, or a road through the city leads through a forest, a roadside café backs directly on to a distant hotel.

the pinefox, Thursday, 22 April 2021 09:33 (one year ago) link

Frank Kermode's description of it as 'tragic farce' nails a great deal of the appeal for me - it's very funny (the 2001 scene, the wooden leg amputation, the journalists calling him a fucking shit), but ultimately has a quite cynical and depressing view of human nature and relationships, or those of the characters in the book anyway.

Did not like The Buried Giant at all - the severe amnesia of the main characters rendered them completely hollow and lifeless for me.

I took drugs recently and why doesn't the UK? (ledge), Thursday, 22 April 2021 10:20 (one year ago) link

Farce, yes; sad, yes; but I don't think it can be tragic, as it doesn't really have any of the criteria for tragedy (destruction of the hero, in accordance with his own great flaw which is also his own strength? Painful irony as an inevitable fate is played out according to the characteristics of the protagonists? etc).

I don't mean to be dogmatic about that genre, which might be definable many ways (cf eg Eagleton's tome SWEET VIOLENCE), but THE UNCONSOLED ends on a sunny morning with the protagonist cheerfully eating a croissant and chatting to someone on a bus while looking forward to his next adventure!

But that may be a digression from the larger point about 'human nature' as seen in this novel.

THE BURIED GIANT for me was an action-packed thrill.

the pinefox, Thursday, 22 April 2021 10:55 (one year ago) link

Apologies for the ending spoiler in my last post.

the pinefox, Thursday, 22 April 2021 10:56 (one year ago) link

three weeks pass...

Listening to a BBC radio documentary about 1960s avant-garde literature, it occurred to me that one faint source for THE UNCONSOLED (whose name I largely find relatively unfitting) could be THE UNFORTUNATES.

the pinefox, Monday, 17 May 2021 14:22 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

Anyone read the new one, The Buried Giant?

― kinder, Thursday, 5 March 2015 09:06 (seven years ago) bookmarkflaglink

A mere eight years later (almost to the day! Waht!) I am beginning this, having forgotten it existed. I think I am not going to like it very much, but at least it's easy to read.

kinder, Saturday, 4 March 2023 23:08 (three weeks ago) link

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