Nobel Prize and the Sweetness of Surprise

I am not usually interested in awards. Although an award for a quantifiable achievement is certainly admirable, I find awards for artistic works to be quite meaningless. How can anyone say one movie, or song, or novel is the best of the year? Obviously there are differences in the quality of artistic works, but to set one above all others seems rather subjective and arbitrary. Of course, panels of experts determine these awards, but I often find I don’t agree with those experts. Because I consume art for my own enjoyment, I trust my own taste and subjective judgment more than I trust the experts’.

The Nobel Prize for Literature is somewhat different than many awards, as it is awarded for a lifetime of work, rather than a single publication. I often find that the award goes to a writer I have never read. Sometimes this spurs me to seek out those authors, although I am not always pleased with what I find. (I was on the “no” side of the Bob Dylan debate last year, although not passionately so.) This year, however, I was pleasantly surprised with the committee’s decision to award the prize to Kazuo Ishiguro. I have read all of Ishiguro’s fiction, and I am deeply impressed with his skill and versatility.

I was introduced to Ishiguro with The Unconsoled. This fascinating work was one of the first examples I encountered that showed how an author could deliberately break conventional storytelling rules of continuity and logic while still maintaining narrative credibility. At first, I found myself saying, “you can’t do that” when presented with a scene of physical impossibility. The deeper I read, though, the more I began to understand the compelling nature of these bizarre scenes. The unreliable narration was the point, and I could completely accept the surreal nature of physical world as a representation of the psychological state.

The unreliable narrator is one of Ishiguro’s strengths, and he uses these narrators to hide the truths that are slowly peeled back as the stories progress. The truths, when revealed, are devastating, as in Never Let Me Go or A Pale View of Hills. However, in some cases the truths are only hinted at. This is also one of Ishiguro’s strengths: his subtlety. He writes beautifully crafted, but simple sentences that always seem to be hiding more than they are revealing. For the reader, these loaded sentences are to be savoured.

I think another characteristic evident in his body of work is his versatility. Although he is not prolific, his few works display a wide range of styles, genres, and themes. The long wait between the publications of his works is made bearable by the fact the reader has no idea what that next work will be like. Anticipation of the surprise is the sweet sauce for an Ishiguro fan, and I am looking forward to his next work, even if I have to wait another five years.

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