Friday, March 24, 2006

Kazuo Ishiguro

in the Guardian Review, on writing what was pretty certainly my favorite novel of 2005 (oh, but there were so many others too, it is a great consolation, think of the bleakness of life without novels--I would fall back on music and film and television and theater and so forth and in time would grow accustomed to the lack, especially I would listen to a lot more music, but it would be very, very trying). That book of course is Never Let Me Go (now out in paperback, do get it and read it if you haven't already--I didn't write much about it when I read it, I was too--what's the word--bouleversee, but here are a few thoughts if you're interested). Here is Ishiguro, anyway, at the end of the piece:

Lastly, a word about clones. Paradoxically, I found that having clones as central characters made it very easy to allude to some of the oldest questions in literature; questions which in recent years have become a little awkward to raise in fiction. 'What does it mean to be human?' 'What is the soul?' 'What is the purpose for which we've been created, and should we try to fulfil it?' In books from past eras - in Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, say - characters would debate these issues for 20 pages at a time and no one would complain. But in our present era, novelists have struggled to find an appropriate vocabulary - an appropriate tone, perhaps - to discuss these questions without sounding pompous or archaic. The introduction of clones - or robots, or super-computers, I suppose - as main characters can reawaken these questions for modern readers in a natural and economic way. It's no surprise that several other recent books and films - including very ambitious ones from David Mitchell and Michel Houellebecq - have cast clones in major roles. It's a futuristic way of going ancient.

(And he could have said Richard Powers, too: in America that's probably the first person you'd think of.)

Other good Guardian stuff: John Banville reviews a collection of interviews with and about Beckett and James Shapiro writes on Shakespeare's practical genius.


  1. And that's one on my list of books I'm supposed to like but don't. I was just bored by it.

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  3. I also loved Never Let Me Down (and promptly lent it to a friend who wasn't moved by it all...alas). Ishiguro is brilliant at portraying absense and negative space -- conditions of modern life -- in elegant, spare prose. I think that's why his work is so powerful.

  4. I thought that comment about David Mitchell and Michel Houellebecq a little contradictory, given Ishiguro's earlier statment (same article) about not having the energy for futuristic, dystopian narratives. It's surprising how many bloggers actually consider Never Let Me Go a futuristic novel, given that the bulk of it takes place between the 1990s and now.

    OTOH, Ishiguro's words on how this novel was born fascinated me. A bunch of shorts on "unusual students" sitting in a box file for over a decade before the catalyst (cloning) finally turned up? Intriguing!