A Catholic reaction to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize

Kazuo Ishiguro, the Japanese-born author of The Remains of the DayNever Let Me Go, and five other acclaimed English-language novels, was awarded the Nobel Prize on Thursday.

No doubt, Ishiguro’s many Catholic fans, myself included, heartily applauded the news. In striking contrast to many modern novelists, his deeply moral stories go to the heart of the human condition with a spare narrative style that hints at deeper forces below the surface.

In each of his stories, mostly told in the first person, readers are faced with the same question: What leads fundamentally good people to make choices they will regret for the rest of their lives?

And in fits and starts, with the aid of their selective, aging memories, Ishiguro’s characters come to terms with the pivotal moments of their lives.

Yes, this is the stuff of real tragedy. His characters’ struggles for clarity and for hope are enormously absorbing and ring true for readers who have traveled down the same path. And that’s why Ishiguro is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed English novelists writing today.

The Remains of the Day

In his best-known work, The Remains of the Day—later adapted into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson—Stevens, a model butler, revisits the critical turning points of his long service to an English lord.

Stevens is clear about his own professional standard: “The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing.

“They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstance tear it off him in the public gaze; he will discard it when, and only when, he wills to do so, and this will invariably be when he is entirely alone. It is, as I say, a matter of ‘dignity.’” Continue reading

  • Joan Frawley Desmond, is the National Catholic Register’s senior editor.
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