Why Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize Is So Easy to Celebrate


Early this morning, the Swedish Academy announced its newest member when Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The 62-year-old novelist was praised by the Swedish Academy as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”

“It’s a magnificent honor, mainly because it means that I’m in the footsteps of the greatest authors that have lived, so that’s a terrific commendation,” Ishiguro told the BBC.

The announcement has been received positively by critics and readers alike, unlike last year’s choice for Nobel Award in Literature, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, which created an onslaught of headlines — not all of them positive. Ishiguro is much more in line with the committee’s typical picks: a long, storied career, marked by award-winning, well-beloved books. He is one of the most celebrated English-language novelists. His most recent novel, The Buried Giant, was published in 2015.

In a strange way, the pairing of laureates makes sense for Ishiguro too. The novelist told The Paris Review in a 2008 interview that he stopped reading books during his teen years, instead focusing his thoughts on rock ’n’ roll. Specifically, he discovered Bob Dylan, whom he calls a “great lyricist,” saying, “With Dylan, I suppose it was my first contact with stream of consciousness or surreal lyrics.” 

Ishiguro’s own work embodies some of those same surrealist tendencies. Never Let Me Go, about three children at a British boarding school whose shared existence has a very dark underbelly, was also mentioned by the committee for its ability to “not only assemble a chilling jigsaw puzzle, but also create a distinct fictional world.” The Remains of the Day, probably Ishiguro’s best-known work, tells the story of a butler working in a British manor house in the lead-up to the Second World War. The book won the Man Booker Prize in 1989 and was later turned into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.  

“I’ll be deeply moved if I could in some way be part of some sort of climate this year in contributing to some sort of positive atmosphere at a very uncertain time,” Ishiguro told the BBC.  It certainly feels positive. Ishiguro’s work is so masterfully crafted it’s both impossible to put down and impossible to speed through — his sentences require readers to soak in their beauty without ever slowing down the story line. His novels are emotional whirlwinds with characters who try earnestly to be good, but are confronted with a world that is a darker and scarier place than they imagined. There’s nothing controversial about choosing Ishiguro as the Nobel laureate for literature, because there’s nothing controversial about naming him one of the best living novelists. It’s just a fact.