October 6, 2017 12:10:05 am
Having languished for years on the favourites list for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro has finally got his due, for laying bare “the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”, in the words of the citation. All of his major books have been nominated for the major literary awards of the English-reading world, and he has earlier been honoured with the Man Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day, the Whitbread Prize for An Artist of the Floating World and the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize for A Pale View of Hills, apart from the Order of the British Empire and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Despite his Japanese origins, and in spite of the fact that his early books are set in a Japan remembered from his childhood, Ishiguro is essentially a British writer. His most memorable character is a butler at an English country house, played by Anthony Hopkins in the film version of The Remains of the Day. Ishiguro cannot be quintessentially English, of course, for the viewpoint of an immigrant must diverge very slightly from that of peers in the host country. He pulled away from the mainstream of contemporary English letters to develop his own understated idiom, and used it to describe a unique moral universe, in stories where the crisis is the point, not its resolution.
Last year, the Nobel prize in Literature had taken a sharp turn off the road and recognised Bob Dylan, who became morose and downright rude, and barely went through the motions of acceptance. In 2017, the prize returns to the straight and narrow, honouring excellence in the world of letters rather than popular culture. This is a genteel space where the honour actually means something, and the committee should think before it ventures beyond it ever again.