Kazuo Ishiguro is a favorite writer of mine. Not that all of his book are favorites — I couldn’t get through The Buried Giant, no matter how often I tried — but I love his ability to create works of such originality, clarity, beauty, and wonder, all within carefully — dare I say perfectly? — constructed frameworks. There is nothing new in the structures of his novels or short stories, and yet the perfection of his construction, filled in with vibrant characters and rich atmosphere (even in The Buried Giant), allows each and every novel or short story to expand beyond great story-telling into transformative literature.
Ishiguro’s work is transformative because in every piece he writes, he presents characters struggling to understand the impact of their lives, whether as warriors or wanderers, clones or house servants, artists or writers. How his characters progress (through always riveting plots) to figure out what their purpose is, allows us readers to discover for ourselves jarring truths about hard it is to really take hold and understand our purpose in life — and yet we struggle on. Ishiguro celebrates the struggle, without ever sentimentalizing it; he acknowledges that the answer to “why we are here” is elusive and shifting, and in the end, not really the point after all.
“What I’m not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.” (Never Let Me Go).
Ishiguro never takes the easy way out in his fiction; he doesn’t write stories with a clear demarcation of right and wrong, light and dark, and yet he does insist on a line of human decency. His characters yearn for what is best not only for themselves but also as a reaching outward for someone or something else. Even when they fail, miserably or, as Ishiguro is so good at depicting, sometimes hilariously, how they are trying to do the right thing.
“If one has failed only where others have not had the courage or will to try, there is a consolation — indeed, a deep satisfaction — to be gained from this observation when looking back over one’s life.” (From An Artist of the Floating World).
Ishiguro’s characters want to be the right person for the job, to answer the needs of the people all around making demands (acquaintances, wives, agents, friends, memory of a mother), and to bring some gratification, some pleasure…