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By 2017-10-15

By Prof. Wimal Dissanayake
Ceylon Today Mosaic

This year's Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the Japanese-born distinguished British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. Although he has written short stores, screenplays and lyrics, it is as a novelist that he hasmade the most profound impression on discerning readers.

He is among the rare group of writers who are well-liked byexacting critics as well as by thegeneral reading public.Over the past thirty five years or so, Kazuo Ishiguro has written seven novels, The Remains of the Day, which won the Booker Prize in 1986 and was adapted into an award-winning film, being the most popular. In awarding this year's prize to Ishiguro, the Nobel Committee underlined the factthat he, 'in his novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath thesense of connection with the world.' Apart from the Nobel Prize, he has won many other prestigious awards

Ishiguro was born in 1954 in Nagasaki Japan. His family moved to Britain when he was five years old. His father was an oceanographerby profession. He studied English and philosophy at Kent University. In 1978 he graduated with honors. He also studied creative writing with the well-known novelist and literary critic Malcolm Bradbury at the University of East Anglia. He first found employment as a social worker in homeless institutions in London and Glasgow. In 1980 he married Lorna Anne MacDougall.

They live in London
Kazuo Ishiguro started his creative life by writinglyrics, short stories and television plays. However, before long he found his true mode of literary expressionin the novel. As critics have rightly pointed out it is for his hauntingly evocative, deceptively simple, psychologically complex novels that he has won an international reputation as a novelist of exceptional talent. Salman Rushdie considers him a brilliant novelist and so do other eminent writers such as Doris Lessing,Joyce Carol Oates, Maxine Hong Kingston and Japanese writers such as KenzaburoOe (a Nobel Prize winner himself) and Haruki Murakami (a perennial Nobel Prize contender.)
To my mind, one of the distinguishing features of Kazuo Ishiguro's fiction is his ability to conceal great emotional and psychological upheavals beneath the placid narrative surface. Salman Rushdie is apt when he says the following. 'Just below theunderstatement of the novels surface is a turbulence as immense as it is slow; for The Remains of the Day is in part a brilliant subversionof the fictional mode from which it seems to descend. Death, change, pain and evil invade the innocent Wodehouse world.........The time-honored bonds between the master and the slave and the codes by which they live, are nolonger dependable absolutes but rather sources of self-deceptions.'

Ishiguro's first novel was called A Pale View of Hills and was published in 1982. It deals with the complex flood of memories of a middle aged Japanese woman against the backdrop of post-World War II society. Etsuko is the main character around which the eventsunfold. She has decided to move to England permanently and live in a country house. She has two daughters from two previous marriages. One has recently come from London to visit her and the other has recently taken her life. The memory of the nuclear catastrophe at Nagasaki is in the background and it intersects with Etsuko's burdensome personal story. The novel was well-received and went on to win a number of prestigious awards.

The second novel was titled An Artist of the Floating World and was published in 1986. The novel deals with the life and times of anaging painter namedMasuji Ono. He is entrapped in his memories related tohis actionsas an artist during the war. He has two daughters like the protagonist in his first novel. He harbors guilty feelings which cause him endless pain related to his war time activities. As a critic has astutely observed, 'he too must alter his personal history in order to make it more possible – for himself as well as for his readers.' this novel won the Whitbread award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

Kazuo Ishiguro's third novel is The Remains of the Day published in 1989. It is the work of fiction that won for him widespread international acclaim, and to date, it is most popular novel. Unlike his previous two novels, this is indeeda very English novel. It examines the emotional make-up and behavioral patterns of typically English characters that are deeply rooted in English tradition and soil. The narrative discourses centers on the character of Stevens. He is a butler of an English estate called Darlington Hall. He decides to travel across England to meet with one of his former worker, Miss Kenton, for whom he has unarticulated tender feelings.
One of the effects of this this drive across the West Country is that it has forced him tore-examine and re-understand his life as a loyal and faithful butler in the 1930s and 1940s. Kazuo Ishiguro once remarked that, 'I chose the figure (of the butler) deliberately because that's what I think I am,and I think most of us are. We're just butlers.'I think that Ishiguro is keen to establish certain parallels between the character of Stevens and the essence of a certain kind of Englishness.

As I stated earlier, The Remains of the Day is a deeply moving representation of the perfect English butler and the gradual but unmistakable disappearance of the insular world that sustained him. Stevens the butler, at the end of his thirty years of service at Darlington Hall sets off on a country drive. During this trip he is keen to re-examine his past, so as to convince himself that he has served his master well and thereby served humanity. However he is also overcome by certain doubts; he has suspicions about the greatness of his master and his unshakable faith in the master that he so loyally served.This invests his reflections with poignancy.
One of the great strengths of Kazuo Ishiguro's novels, includingThe Remainsof the Day, is the ability of the author to controlthe tone of his narrative very subtly and dexterously. The very opening paragraph bears testimony to this skill of his. 'It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination for some days. An expedition,I should say,which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr. Farraday's ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country,and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days.
The idea of such a journey came about,as I should point out, from a most kind suggestion put to me by Mr. Farradayhimself one afternoon almost a fortnight ago, when I had been dustingthe portraits in the library in fact, as I recall, I was up on the step-ladder dusting the portrait of Viscount Wetherby when my employer has entered carrying a few volumes which he presumably wished returned to the shelves....'

(to be continued)




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