The British writer, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature, has just published a new novel, Klara and the Sun, which will be released in France in September. In this interview given to Guardian, he confides in his writing process and on the themes that are dear to him: the exploration of feelings and our relationship to artificial intelligence.
For the Ishiguro family, October 5, 2017 was a milestone day. After weeks of discussions, the writer’s wife, Lorna, had finally decided to change her hair color. Seated in the chair of a hair salon in Hampstead, not far from London’s Golders Green, where the couple have lived for years, wrapped in her blouse, she glanced at her phone, then announced to the hairdresser who took care of her:
Sorry, I’m gonna have to go. My husband has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Maybe he’ll need me. ”
Meanwhile, Kazuo Ishiguro was lazing over a late breakfast when he got the call from his agent. “It’s the opposite of the Booker Prize [qu’il a obtenu en 1987], where there is first a preselection, then the finalists. We hear the roar of thunder approaching, but usually lightning passes by. With the Nobel, it’s a flash of lightning that came out of nowhere that falls on you – bam! ” Half an hour later, a crowd of journalists crowded in front of his house. He called his mother, Shizuko: “‘I won the Nobel, Shon’, I told him. Strangely, she didn’t look more surprised than that. She answered me : “I knew you would have it one day or another.”” She died two years ago, at the age of 92.
It is to her that he dedicated his new novel (the first since he was nobelized), Klara and the Sun [à paraître en français aux éditions Gallimard en septembre 2021], devoted in part to maternal dedication. “If I became a writer, it is largely thanks to her”, he confides.
Our interview is done by Zoom interposed. He took refuge in the guest room, where the shelves are filled with textbooks from his daughter, Naomi. His own desk is tiny, he explains, just big enough for two work tables: one for his computer, the other with a writing desk – and no one is allowed in.
A young white-beak in the Nobelized caste
As encouragement, he likens the interview to an interrogation, citing a scene from The mole, by John Le Carré, who explains how intelligence officers are trained to resist torture by preparing several plausible character profiles, “Until they were just a screaming head”. He submits, however, with good grace to questions, so much so that he speaks for several hours with the meticulous consideration that one would expect from his fiction.
In the Nobelized caste, at 62 years old, Kazuo Ishiguro looked more like a young white-beak. Precocity is an integral part of the Ishiguro myth: in 1983, at the age of 27, he was the youngest writer selected in the list of the best young novelists of the British literary review Granta (alongside Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Jullian Barnes, among others), who gave him another place of honor the following decade. In the meantime, he had won the Booker Prize for The remains of the day [éd. Les Presses de la Renaissance, 1990], beautifully brought to the screen by James Ivory in a 1993 production of Ismail Merchant. His belief that most great novels were written by authors between the ages of 20 and 40 has gone down in literary legend. “It is [le romancier britannique] Martin Amis who repeats this to whoever wants to hear it, not me, he laughs. He got this idea in his head and he sticks to it. ”
Ishiguro, however, remains convinced that his thirties are the crucial period for a novelist: “You need a lot of that brain power.” (Which couldn’t be better for Naomi who, at 28, also released her first novel, Common Ground [“Terrain d’entente”, non traduit en français], in March 2021, much to his father’s delight.) When someone pitched him on the Nobel, his response was always the same:
Writers were awarded the Nobel in their late 60s for works they wrote in their 30s. ”
“Today, he raises sharply from the top of his 66 years, maybe that applies to me, personally. ”
He remains the supreme creator of closed worlds (the country house, the pension), often camping his characters in a kind of confinement. His meticulous attention to everyday detail and his almost ostentatiously simple style counterbalance extraordinary storylines and restrained emotional intensity. As such, Klara and the Sun is no exception.
Planted in an indefinite America, in an indefinite future, this novel bears – at first glance, at least – on the links that are forged between a “Artificial friend”, Klara, and her owner / protégé, teenage Josie. Intelligent robots (or “artificial friends ”) are now as prevalent as vacuum cleaners, genetic engineering is the norm, and advances in biotechnology are on the verge of reproducing unique human beings.
“This is not an eccentric and improbable chimera, specifies the writer. We have not yet realized how much is already possible today. ” The mention “Amazon advises you” is just the beginning. “In the age of big data, we may soon be able to identically reconstruct the character of an individual so that after his death he continues to live, wondering what is going on now. order online, what concert he would like to attend, and let everyone know, around the breakfast table, what he thinks of the daily press headlines ”, he continues.
Interview by Lisa Allardice
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Literature. Kazuo Ishiguro or writing like a sword fight