The Books of My Numberless Dreams

For all you Ishiguro fans

Posted on: May 15, 2008

Here are some vague details on what could possibly, maybe be his new book. At this point in the piece he and the interviewer discuss whether Ishiguro truly has “chameleon-like” story telling skill because he changes setting drastically from book to book. Ishiguro feels that thematically he’s retreading similar territory.

INTERVIEWER

I think that’s very particular to you. It shows a certain chameleon-like ability.

ISHIGURO

I don’t think it is that chameleon-like. What I’m saying is I’ve written the same book three times. I just somehow get away with it.

INTERVIEWER

You think that you have, but everyone who read your first novels and then read The Remains of the Day had a psychedelic moment — they were transported from this convincing Japanese setting to Lord Darlington’s estate.

ISHIGURO

That’s because people see the last thing first. For me, the essence doesn’t lie in the setting. I know that it does in some cases. In Primo Levi, take away the setting and you’ve taken away the book. But I went to a great performance of The Tempest recently, set in the Arctic. Most writers have certain things that they decide quite consciously, and other things they decide less consciously. In my case, the choice of narrator and setting are deliberate. You do have to choose a setting with great care, because with a setting come all kinds of emotional and historical reverberations. But I leave quite a large area for improvisation after that. For example, I’ve arrived at an odd setting for the novel I’m writing at the moment.

INTERVIEWER

What’s it about?

ISHIGURO

I won’t talk too much about it, but let me use its early stages as an example. I’d wanted for some time to write a novel about how societies remember and forget. I’d written about how individuals come to terms with uncomfortable memories. It occurred to me that the way an individual remembers and forgets is quite different to the way a society does. When is it better to just forget? This comes up over and over again. France after the Second World War is an interesting case. You could argue that De Gaulle was right to say, We need to get the country working again. Let’s not worry too much about who collaborated and who didn’t. Let’s leave all this soul-searching to another time. But some would say that justice was ill served by that, that it leads eventually to bigger problems. It’s what an analyst might say about an individual who’s repressing. If I were to write about France, though, it becomes a book about France. I imagined myself having to face all these experts on Vichy France asking me, So what are you saying about France? What are you accusing us of? And I’d have to say, Actually, it was just supposed to stand for this bigger theme. Another option was the Star Wars strategy: “in a galaxy far, far away.” Never Let Me Go went in that direction, and that has its own challenges. So for a long time, I had this problem.

INTERVIEWER

What did you decide?

ISHIGURO

A possible solution was to set the novel in Britain in 450 A.D. when the Romans left and the Anglo-Saxons took over, which led to the annihilation of the Celts. Nobody knows what the hell happened to the Celts. They just disappeared. It was either genocide or assimilation. I figured that the further you go back in time, the more likely the story would be read metaphorically. People see Gladiator and interpret it as a modern parable.

From “The Art of Fiction” No. 196 interview with Kazuo Ishiguro in The Paris Review No. 184, Spring 2008.

7 Responses to "For all you Ishiguro fans"

Ohhh! Thanks for posting this.😀 And I agree with Ishiguro: I’ve only read Remains and Never Let Me Go, but while they had distinct settings and narrators, I think I would’ve known that Ishiguro wrote the latter, even if his name hadn’t been on it.

Oh, what a teaser! Sounds like the book, wherever it may be set, just might be pretty good.

Cool! I’m very curious to see what he ends up doing — thanks for posting this.

Now that’s exciting stuff . . . new Ishiguro. Thanks for the heads up.

Ishiguro doing Anglo-Saxon historical novel.

I am intrigued.

Great this! The writer on setting, plot, narrative point of view…. I love this and cannot wait to read his next book, whatever the setting

By the way, I’ve added you to my blogroll – some great reviews here!

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