Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the world's most treasured and celebrated contemporary fiction authors. This achievement can be attributed largely to his widespread appeal; his books can be found lining the shelves of both literary and commercial fiction lovers, bibliophiles and those just beginning their reading journey. His books have also found a welcome home in libraries across the UK where, over the past thirty years, innumerable readers have first discovered the magic held between their pages.
His latest novel, Klara and the Sun, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend who, from her place in a shop window, remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her. To celebrate the publication of Klara and the Sun, Ishiguro's first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, we look back at his impressive body of work, and the impact it has had on readers across the UK.
Born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954, Ishiguro moved to Surrey, England with his family at the age of five. His first novel, A Pale View of the Hills, was published in 1982, and every one of his following six novels and his short story collection have been shortlisted for or won major literary prizes. An Artist of the Floating World, When We Were Orphans, and Never Let Me Go, the last of which was turned into a hit film adaptation, were all short-listed for the Booker Prize, whilst The Remains of the Day was crowned the winner in 1989. The novel was also featured on The Reading Agency's World Book Night list in 2012.
More recently, Ishiguro has been given a knighthood for services to literature and bestowed with the Order of the Rising Sun, a prestigious recognition of civil service in Japan. Upon awarding Ishiguro the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, the Swedish Academy described him as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".
This examination of our collective humanity has been brought into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ishiguro's novels, which capture readers through their treatment of the themes of memory, loss, and our capacity for empathy, each have something to say about the way we currently live our lives. "What [Ishiguro] does very well is explore pain," says one reader in Handforth. "He takes mundane characters, ordinary people, and demonstrates how the present is perpetually pervaded by the past. Memories shape us and, in some ways, define who we are. There is no moving away from them, no matter how hard we might try. And that's what makes his stories so compelling."
Memory has been an important source of refuge this past year as we seek ways to reconnect with our families, our friends, and our own lives. Recalling memories of hugging a friend or even standing in a crowded bookshop have allowed us to relive these moments in our minds and find comfort in knowing we will experience them again. The pandemic has also prompted many to reflect on what they consider to be important, how they spend their time and the people they spend it with. Considering the impact The Remains of the Day had on her, Sue Williamson, Director for Libraries at Arts Council England, says, "I found the self-reflection, the examination of whether the values that one has lived one's life by stand scrutiny or whether there is a sense of regret, of missed opportunity, very poignant." Caroline Mitchell of Tooting Library adds, "[Ishiguro's] books make you think about things in relation to your own life," and if the past year has taught us one thing, it is to grab hold of life with all its vivacity and unpredictability, and to savour every second.
Reading has been a lifeline for many over the past year, filling the empty furloughed hours and providing a much-needed form of escapism. However, the impossible weight of our current reality has, for some, made reading hard. Chris Ingle, who lives in the South West, says, "The Buried Giant was a sort of turning point for me. I was getting a little burned out, but this book renewed my faith and my attention span, and I believe the skill that Ishiguro possesses to be able to do that is truly special." Julie Freeman, a librarian at Dorset Libraries, agrees: "[Ishiguro's] books are the kind I return to on rainy days, the kind that you read when you want to think - and read when you don't want to think at all!"
For many people, Ishiguro's books mark a turning point in their reading journeys. Liz Broad says she probably would not have chosen to read Never Let Me Go had it not been picked by her book club, Doveridge Reading Group. She says, "when I'm asked for my favourite book group choice of the past fifteen years, I still choose this!" A fellow book club member from the West Midlands agrees: "I first read Never Let Me Go twelve years ago and I've never forgotten the impression it left on me."
Jodie Brooks, a school librarian from Oxford, also knows the lifelong impact of Ishiguro's books: "I read The Remains of the Day as an apathetic seventeen-year-old. [It] is 'the' book that unlocked a deep and enduring love of reading ... the prose lit in me this fervent desire to read and read and read." Testifying to the belief that a truly great book is one that leaves an enduring impression on our way of seeing the world, Jodie adds, "I had never thought a book could provoke such a deep and enduring emotion in me ... who knows, it could be because of this book that I became a school librarian."
This potential for Ishiguro's novels to influence the way readers relate to their environment, their community, and those beyond it, is part of their enduring appeal. "For me," says Williamson, "the mark of a piece of writing that is outstanding is whether the impression it leaves stays with me. Everything I have read by Ishiguro falls into that category." This durability of Ishiguro's words is felt too by Brooks, who says, "he is subtle in the most magical way ... his words can last your lifetime."
For anybody who has not yet experienced the joy of reading Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun promises to be one of his most powerful works to date. And if you are unsure where to start, a librarian at Bloxwich District Library sums up how best to read any Ishiguro novel: "approach it with an open mind. The author will lead you into the novel and show you how he perceives the world; enjoy the ride."
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro is published by Faber and Faber on 2 March 2021. Buy it from The Reading Agency's shop on Bookshop.org where a small donation will go towards helping us to continue to reach 1.8 million people through the proven power of reading.