The 2017 Nobel Prize in literature

Kazuo Ishiguro, the English novelist who wrote Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, has won the 2017 Nobel Prize for literature
Ishiguro’s novels are mostly first-person and mostly told by an unreliable narrator. They tend to revolve around a single traumatic idea that the narrator is not entirely capable of confronting head-on — that the narrator of Never Let Me Go is a clone who will eventually donate all of her vital organs to someone else; that the butler narrator of The Remains of the Day has spent his life tending to a Nazi — and which the book describes in anxious, claustrophobic circles until the reader fully understands it.

Ishiguro’s novels have also faced some criticism from readers of science fiction and fantasy, who argue that he borrows the tropes of those genres without fully understanding how to use or deconstruct them. Most famously, when Ishiguro worried aloud that his readers might think 2015’s The Buried Giant was a fantasy novel, science fiction legend Ursula Le Guin tartly rejoined that reading his book “was like watching a man falling from a high wire while he shouts to the audience, ‘Are they going say I’m a tight-rope walker?’”

All criticism aside, there is nothing quite like the moment in an Ishiguro novel in which the trauma that the narrator is desperately trying to brush aside starts to become legible to the reader, who all at once can grasp the enormous repressed pain and heartbreak that — as the reader realizes for the first time — has been running under the novel all along, like a paved-over river. Such a moment is in The Remains of the Day, as the butler Stevens demotes his father at his employer’s request. In this context, Swedish Academy wrote that Ishiguro, “in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”


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