December 2nd 2017


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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL Turnbull redefines terms of marriage vote

CANBERRA OBSERVED Turnbull is running on empty as margin shrinks

GENDER POLITICS Northern Territory proposes recognising fluid genders

ENVIRONMENT Sea levels are not on the rise: research

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Our clinging to the fringe is stultifying development

FREEDOM Where to now after the marriage redefinition vote?

EDUCATION Unions and the ALP have gutted the curriculum

ECONOMICS The West faces tests of its own resilience

CULTURE The mysterious birth of technology

DRUGS AND SOCIETY Addiction and the cultural repression of spiritual values

OPINION Don't stand by as the fight for freedom begins

LITERATURE Britain's Kazuo Ishiguro a worthy Nobel laureate

HUMOUR Whispers from court side

MUSIC Funny tones: Playing it for a laugh

CINEMA Murder on the Orient Express: First-class mayhem

BOOK REVIEW Disentangling the free-market fraud

BOOK REVIEW Not inscrutible, just ambitious

LETTERS

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LITERATURE
Britain's Kazuo Ishiguro a worthy Nobel laureate


by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, December 2, 2017

In recent years, the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to authors who veer from the ludicrous to the obscure. The world was stunned when Bob Dylan, who told us “the answer is blowin’ in the wind”, did not even acknowledge his award in 2016 for two weeks. J.M. Coetzee, a South African who now lives in Adelaide, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. Among his recent books, which verge on the incomprehensible, is The Childhood of Jesus (Text, Melbourne, 2013).

Kazuo Ishiguro

Now, to the gratification of his many readers, British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, a truly worth winner, has been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and moved with his family to England when he was five. His father was a scientist, who remained in Britain far longer than he ever expected.

Ishiguro continued to communicate with his parents in Japanese. He studied writing at the University of East Anglia (UEA), which established the first creative writing course in the United Kingdom. In the 1970s, creative writing was considered to have a somewhat dubious place in academe, but UEA was the first of many such courses in Britain and around the Commonwealth.

According to the Swedish Academy, Ishiguro confronts themes of “memory, time and self-delusion”. Some say that he is a mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, but it is fairer to say that, like the great novelists of the past, he wrestles with universal themes that recur throughout his writing. Whereas Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature (1973), Patrick White, was obsessed with the emptiness of Australian civilisation, Ishiguro is concerned with universal preoccupations such as dignity, integrity and self-worth, qualities that live in uneasy symbiosis.

Ishiguro’s first works were to an extent autobiographical, as are the first works of many writers. His best-known novels are set in a warped reality. It would be untrue to call his books “science fiction”, just as it would be untrue to call George Orwell’s Animal Farm or 1984 science fiction.

The book that brought Ishiguro to a wider audience was Remains of the Day (Faber, 1989), which won the Booker Prize. His next book to achieve popular acclaim was Never Let Me Go (Faber 2005), a dystopian universe that is closer to the truth than many readers may realise. Both these books were made into films.

Among his other novels is a mystical book set in Dark Ages Britain, The Buried Giant (Faber, 2015). While this recent book was not his best, it is still a marvelous exercise in literary style, evoking the struggle between the Britons and the encroaching Saxons. The element of fantasy caused some controversy – was this science fiction, or was it not? Ishiguro’s ability to juggle the various voices in The Buried Giant shows the deft touch of a master wordsmith.

The Remains of the Day is told in the voice of Stevens, the butler at Darlington Hall between the Wars. Lord Darlington was an appeaser, a useful idiot who unwittingly furthered the aims of Nazi foreign policy.

“Lord Darlington wasn’t a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say that he made his own mistakes … As for myself, I cannot even claim that. I trusted His Lordship’s wisdom” (p243).

Stevens spent his life serving a man who was unworthy of his devotion. Lord Darlington was not only an appeaser, he believed that “democracy is something for a bygone era” (p198). After the war, his good name had been destroyed forever.

Stevens is concerned with dignity, that is, that he is worthy of respect. This is a recurring theme – Stevens seeks dignity, rather than honour or integrity. Eventually, as Stevens looks back over his life, he can only say that he will “make the best of what remains of my day”.

In the post-World War II era, few of the great houses remain. Stevens is still at Darlington Hall, spending his days serving a nouveau riche American he considers to be almost unbearably crass.

Remains of the Day is a brilliant exercise in literary style. 

Never Let Me Go is about a dystopian future where children are cloned in order to be cut up for spare parts. While Remains of the Day is a gripping exercise, resembling a mystery, Never Let Me Go is profoundly disturbing because it brings to mind the cruel and ugly treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China, who are dissected for their organs. Never Let Me Go gives us the queasy feeling that we can never be quite sure that sometime in the future this won’t happen here.

Kazuo Ishiguro is not a prolific writer. In his depth of moral concern over the dilemmas of the human condition, he resembles another great novelist, Isaac Bashevis Singer (Nobel Laureate 1978). From the viewpoint of literary style – for example, maintaining the subtlest rhythms in the voice of Stevens in The Remains of the Day – he is brilliant. His reputation is likely to rest on his two great books, The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.




























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