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The inconsolable Kazuo Ishiguro

  • Published at 11:58 am October 7th, 2017
  • Last updated at 03:42 pm October 7th, 2017
The inconsolable Kazuo Ishiguro
It was during what I myself came to consider the beginning of my “literary” phase that I first came upon Kazuo Ishiguro. Seventeen years old and mispronouncing his first name in my head (Ka-zoo-oh instead of Kat-zoo-oh), I picked up titles from the British Council library based on how inviting the title was and how pretty the cover. I had just finished a few Booker winners and shortlisters -- amongst them was Roy’s The God of Small Things, Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and McEwan’s Amsterdam -- and was ready for my next one. My first experience of Ishiguro was, ironically, The Unconsoled. It was ironic because it is probably his least acclaimed piece of work (maybe next to his latest, The Buried Giant) and, perhaps, with good cause. The story of a concert pianist who ends up partaking in a series of disappointing meetings left me flummoxed. It is to date the most frustrating novel I have ever read. Every single instance in which the reader in me expected some sort of defining action from the protagonist, or a revelation, or a hint of a satisfactory outcome, the characters would disappoint by not providing it for me. It soon turned out that this wasn’t going to change, not until the very last page; it was a series of disappointments, one after the other, and by the time I had finished reading the novel, I could barely keep myself from tearing my hair out from my head (time and genetics have taken care of that since then). It was a novel I couldn’t understand. It would build up to a climax and leave me gasping for air. It led up to confrontations which never took place, words never being spoken.
Where Murakami is simple in story and language, Ishiguro is only simple in language; his stories capture the inexplicable sadness of human existence in a way no contemporary English writer has been able to
The language was simple, the narrative was chronological and yet, it was Kafkaesque in a way that left me wanting so much more from the novel. Like many before me, understanding the beauty of Ishiguro takes time. And it is not surprising to learn that The Unconsoled later received recognition for being a quality piece of literary work. There’s reason for this. To understand Ishiguro is to understand the almostness of human existence, and to revel in the myriad regrets which accumulate to become a single human life. At any given moment, we ask: “Should I have done that?” We wonder: “Shouldn’t I have said that?” We wish: “I should’ve ended up elsewhere.” In an interview, Ishiguro famously said that he had this “feeling of this completely alternative person I should have become. There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.” In such a way, almost all of his characters live lives which they wish they weren’t living, be it in the person they became, or in the little ways they wish their lives were different. But the beauty of Ishiguro’s narrative style is reliant on his subtlety, and in the way he hides the truth behind unsaid words, unthinkable thoughts, and undoable acts. Nowhere is this more felt than in what is probably his most well-known work, Never Let Me Go. It is not until the reader is halfway through the novel that he or she realises the truth and it is heartbreaking in a way that I personally have not experienced before. To read Ishiguro, at the end of the day, is a truly personal experience. It may very well be the case that the melancholic space his narrative occupies is one that only some of us do. And, for this reason, it is incomprehensible to some why he should be given the Nobel Prize for Literature. After all, with only seven novels and few who have heard of him and many confusing him with Murakami, did he deserve it? Yes, he did. Let me get one thing straight, though: Whatever comparisons there may be with Haruki Murakami are completely unfounded (and, in fact, maybe a tad racist?). Murakami does not boast any of the literary prowess that Ishiguro does, being on-the-nose in true Japanese style. Maybe Murakami’s literature works better in Japanese, but that is not something I will ever know. Apart from their shared national heritage, there is little in common between the two. Where Murakami revels in known feelings and tight endings, Ishiguro is immersed in the imperfection of memory. Where Murakami draws clear lines in the sand, Ishiguro swims in the waves of a vast ocean, a non-swimmer, gasping for safety that never comes. Where Murakami is simple in story and language, Ishiguro is only simple in language; his stories capture the inexplicable sadness of human existence in a way no contemporary English writer has been able to. His stories boast incomplete characters, characters which constantly fail to achieve closure, creating a distance between themselves and us. And this insurmountable distance between two people can be found in the words of Ishiguro. When I first heard of Ishiguro having won the Nobel, I could not quite believe it. It was joy as personal as the experience of reading one of his novels. But if one doesn’t feel that way, that is also OK. That, I must admit, is nothing personal. SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. 
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