Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize is a victory for literary weirdness

A canon as bold and risky as it is celebrated.
A canon as bold and risky as it is celebrated.
Image: Reuters / Mike Segar
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British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, and in doing so has scored a victory for speculative authors worldwide.

Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize, a tremendous personal accolade, and a marker of success for a fruitful authorial career, is also a moment of validation for authors whose fiction strides the line between literary and speculative. In honoring him, the Nobel Committee has helped legitimize speculative fiction—an umbrella term for all fiction containing supernatural, science-fiction, dreamlike, horror, fantasy, or simply impossible elements—within a global literary community that has often ignored such works in favor of weighty realistic novels.   

A technically gifted writer with a unique, haunting tone, Ishiguro’s greatest achievement is his embrace of imagination, storytelling creativity, and truly fictitious fiction. His canon is as bold and risky as it is celebrated: The Remains of the Day, which follows the events of an austere English butler, was nearly universally acclaimed, while his subsequent novel, The Unconsoled, was a far more daring and daunting work of speculative fiction that received a fair share of critical derision. Ishiguro continued to produce speculative fiction, including the Booker Prize-shortlisted Never Let Me Go and his latest, The Buried Giant, which dip into the science-fiction and fantasy genres, respectively.

The themes present in every Ishiguro novel—memory, loss, social expectation—and the carefully crafted tone of every Ishiguro sentence are as inherently a part of his legacy as the unrelenting weirdness of his stories. In The Unconsoled, walls appears from nowhere blocking the protagonist’s path, and a development that is treated as perfectly normal. In The Buried Giant, a dragon is introduced with the same matter-of-fact nature the narrator uses in commenting on the weather. Even readers of The Remains of the Day are forced to take several leaps of faith, with the novel’s jumps in time and with the unusual memories presented by a most-assuredly unreliable narrator.

To read Ishiguro is to read weirdness, presented in a beautiful literary package. He’s far from being the first author to successfully achieve this balance—he stands side-by-side giants such as Lydia Davis, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Franz Kafka, and Kurt Vonnegut—yet he is one of the sharpest at sustaining mastery over both elements. And by winning the Nobel Prize, he may continue to inspire generations of speculative writers for years to come.