There was a time when, as an adult, I did not read books. Then one evening, when I lay awake overthinking and analysing, I realised what this meant. If I continued at my current rate of reading 0.75 books a year on holiday, then I would likely die not having read 100 books. I was then suddenly aware of the pressure of acquainting myself with the literary world as soon as possible, and how daunting that prospect was.
In order to rectify the situation, I went to a local charity shop and bought the first book that caught my fancy. A fan of Benedict Cumberbatch and all things ‘detective-ey’, I decided on When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Reading this story recovered my lost love of reading and ignited a new passion for writing. Published in 2000, it remained my favourite book even ten years later. It is well-deserved, and of no surprise to me, that Ishiguro was this month awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
“Reading When We Were Orphans recovered my lost love of reading, and ignited a new passion for writing”
Ishiguro presented me with Christopher, an odd but loveable man that I still miss now. Christopher’s journey begins as a renowned London detective, modelled on the likes of Sherlock (but with social acceptance and without the illicit drug use, so not that much like Sherlock) who transforms into a brave crusader for justice, with the story’s climax happening on the front lines in war-torn Shanghai where he experiences death and pain to find the truth, while in the process risking his happily-ever-after. He travels in search of an answer to the mysterious and unexplained disappearance of his parents as a boy – the ultimate case of his career and the question his life had been building up to answer. The tension is high and the action is thrilling. The will-they-won’t-they between Christopher and his lady-friend Sarah is tantalising. If you are starting to get worried that Ishiguro is an action writer and not for you, I can assure you that he can write romance. Perhaps not in the sexually graphic way of Murakami, but he creates a depth in his characters’ relationships that is relatable and real. Ishiguro uses the ever-unreliable memory to reveal the events and truths behind a friendship or a romance.
As with relationships, memories greatly affect our lives. Memories are fascinating things, they remain with us whether we want it or not, and what we decide to remember and what we don’t at times feels out of our control. For example, I can remember the name of my mum’s school friend even though we have never met. However I cannot, under any circumstances, remember the password to my work email. It is not just Christopher’s story that is intensified by the frustrations of a biased memory. In Ishiguro’s recent and, in my opinion, most beautiful book, The Buried Giant, he explores again the nature of how influential yet fragile our memories are, and the anxiety that comes with losing them. It’s hard to tell whether emotions cloud memories, or the other way round. Dementia, a word I imagine many readers thought of as they read this historical Roman-inspired adventure, is in this book not the image of a diseased memory but transformed into a magical dragon, a demon to be defeated, with heroes, knights, King Arthur: undoubtedly all the well-loved elements of fantasy.
“Kazuo Ishiguro more than deserves his Nobel Prize in literature”
Memory is not the only thing to change with time, and as his characters grow, so do their relationships. The Buried Giant presents an aged kind of love, a marriage that has been battered and bruised, until commitment is stronger than any flame which may have once been lit. In much of Ishiguro’s work, I see the tenderness of family and companionship.
If it isn’t clear, I think Ishiguro more than deserves his Nobel Prize, and if you haven’t read anything by him, then please do. Ishiguro’s characters are so real that we can see pieces of ourselves in them. He tells a story with such fluid simplicity, with only just enough detail but all of it crucial. His books are, if one thing, entertaining. He makes it look easy.