Kazuo Ishiguro is back
A writer remembers her first brush with Ishiguro, now that he's back after a gap of 10 years
“This book is driving me crazy.” The friend who lent me my first Ishiguro was talking about The Unconsoled, in which an acclaimed pianist checks into a hotel in a new city before a big recital. But Mr Ryder, who’s telling this story, seems to have some gaping holes in his memory. He meets characters as if for the first time, but it becomes clear that he’s connected to some of these people in significant ways that he can only recall in bits and pieces.
The Unconsoled is dreamlike, not in a poetic sense but in the stubbornly illogical way of actual dreams. When we recall a dream in the light of day, we add a layer of narration to stitch all the parts together, plug the gaps and give it meaning. Through most of The Unconsoled, you’re suspended just on the brink of knowing.
Dialogues go on for pages. Characters seem to fixate on totally irrelevant things in order to heal some vague trauma of the past. You soon realise that this narrator can’t be trusted; he is as disoriented as you are. You react as you might if a driver fell asleep at the wheel: your focus sharpens in self-defense. You are a creature now of instinct.
Perhaps it was a good idea to fall in love with what is the least favourably reviewed of Ishiguro’s books. (One critic said The Unconsoled “invented its own category of badness.”) In comparison, his other works are positively brisk and linear. In Ishiguro’s world, plots often slip away from the narrators, revealing the truths they’re trying so hard to hide. This process of discovering something the storyteller doesn’t want you to see is both satisfying and heartbreaking. What joy is there, after all, in stripping someone of the delusions that soothe them, whether it’s the mother who processes her guilt over the suicide of her child (A Pale View Of Hills) or the private detective who believes that he can prevent World War II if he can solve the mystery of his parents’ disappearance (When We Were Orphans).
We all have the right to defend the lies that comfort us and the chance to make what was once broken whole again. Ishiguro never says that. He just draws you a map so you can get there yourself.
Ten years after his last novel, the Booker-winning author returns with The Buried Giant:
“You’ve long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it’s time now to think on it anew. There’s a journey we must go on, and no more delay…” begins Ishiguro’s latest, where, in the not-too-far dystopian future, a couple leaves for a troublesome land to find their missing son. “Lost memories, love, revenge and war”, according to Faber & Faber, are the driving themes.
The Buried Giant (Faber & Faber) is out this month