Last night at the Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon, Kazuo Ishiguro stopped by to speak about his new novel The Buried Giant. To a sold out crowd, Ishiguro talked about his inspiration, the flack he’s getting for including pixies and ogres, and his long history of plagiarizing Charlotte Bronte.
Ishiguro talked at length about his decision to set the novel in post-Arthurian England. He wanted to write a book about collective memory, and about the times when a society chooses to collectively forget a traumatic event so that it may move on and begin to heal. Ishiguro said he had the formations of the story and thought about setting it in lots of different places that have experienced this phenomenon: post-WWII France, post-apartheid South Africa, post-dissolution Yugoslavia. He ultimately chose his fantasy setting because he knew if he chose somewhere more contemporary and familiar to his readers, his book would be taken as being about the place rather than about memory. He talked a lot about the “buried giants” of countries all of the world. America’s, of course, is the history of race relations and highlights a situation where the giant might be awaking. Ishiguro noted that America may need to undergo a formal truth and reconciliation process, modeled on post-apartheid South Africa, if it is ever to move past its history. Until then the issue of race remains an open wound.
In less gloomy parts of the discussion he talked about being inspired by Jane Eyre, and that the structures of his novels have been heavily influenced by Bronte. Ishiguro explained that he was not a reader as a young man, so unlike most writers he does not have a wide cannon of literature from which he draws inspiration. Structurally he says Bronte’s work is perfect and he’s surprised that no one has ever pointed a finger at him, accusing him of lifting too much from her work.
Lastly, the crowd asked about his films. Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day were both adapted into critically successful films but Ishiguro didn’t write the screenplay for either, even though he has done other screenplay work. He told the crowd that he didn’t even apply for the job, explaining that a screenplay contains about 1/5 of the words of a novel so whoever is adapting has to be ruthless when cutting the material. The novelist is never the right candidate. Ishiguro explained that a movie adaptation should not be a translation of his work, but a standalone piece of art. He tells filmmakers that they should make the best film they can with the same title as his books. And it has worked! Ishiguro loved both films, particularly the acting. He explained that he learns so much about his characters from the actors and he is always eager to watch this part of the process.
Ishiguro’s latest novel, The Buried Giant, is available now from book-retailers everywhere.