At 1 p.m. today in Stockholm, the doors to the Swedish Academy opened and Sara Danius, a literary scholar who is permanent secretary of the Academy, announced that the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 had been awarded to the English writer Kazuo Ishiguro. Danius said Ishiguro “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world” in novels “of great emotional force.”
Ishiguro, who was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 and moved to the United Kingdom as a child, is the author of eight novels. Previous prizes include the 1989 Man Booker Award for The Remains of the Day, in which the butler Stevens (played by Anthony Hopkins in the film of the same name) recalls his life of service to Lord Darlington, a Fascist, and friendship with Darlington’s housekeeper, Miss Kenton.
In a video filmed in 2015, Ishiguro said that the role of butler was a metaphor for the human experience. “I was suggesting that most of us are butlers. ...What I meant by this was most of us …do jobs, and we often don’t understand the context in which we make our best efforts. We kind of offer it up, almost blind sometimes, to a boss or a corporation, or a cause, or a nation, just hoping it’s going to be used in a good way. We are always, politically, ethically in this position. …We never quite know what we’re contributing to when the big picture gets seen."
Ishiguro’s style can seem unemotional, though that appearance masks deep feeling. As New Yorker critic James Wood wrote in a review of Ishiguro’s 2015 novel, The Buried Giant, “Ishiguro writes a prose of provoking equilibrium — sea-level flat, with unseen fathoms below. He avoids ornament or surplus, and seems to welcome cliché, platitude, episodes as bland as milk, an atmosphere of oddly vacated calm whose mild persistence comes to seem teasingly or menacingly unreal.” Louis Menand, writing about Ishiguro's sci-fi novel of genetic engineering, Never Let Me Go (2005), said that his "novels, though filled with incidents of poignancy and disappointment and cruelty, are also, weirdly, funny.”
Expressing gratitude for the award from outside his home in London, Ishiguro told the press that “it comes at a time when the world is uncertain about its values, its leadership and its safety. I just hope that my receiving this huge honor will, even in a small way, encourage the forces for good.” Last year, the prize, worth slightly over US $1 million, went to Bob Dylan.