Man Booker at Birkbeck – Kazuo Ishiguro

This post was provided by Emma Curry, a PhD student in the Department of English and Humanities, working on Dickens’s representations of objects and body parts.

Last year’s inaugural Man Booker event at Birkbeck was an entertaining and fascinating evening, and this year’s discussion between Prof. Russell Celyn Jones and Kazuo Ishiguro (or ‘Ish’ as he was happy to be referred to) continued that high standard. The talk was warm, witty and wide-ranging: Ishiguro spoke at length on his connections with Japan, his writing practices, his use of different voices within his novels, his interest in both individual and collective memory, and the place of art in an exploration of what it means to be human.

As someone with an interest in the process of novel-to-screen adaptations, it was particularly fascinating to hear Ishiguro talk about the film versions of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. He amusingly revealed that whilst he is credited as ‘executive producer’ on Never Let Me Go, he has very little idea what this title actually means! It was also interesting to hear in this part of the discussion about the process of writerly exchange: whilst Ishiguro writes screenplays, he prefers not to adapt his own work: instead the screenwriter for Never Let Me Go was Alex Garland, who in turn is himself an author, having written the novel (but not the screenplay) The Beach. Whilst some writers dislike the film adaptations of their work, Ishiguro praised what he called the ‘natural’ alliance between the novel and the cinema, suggesting that it was an important connection to both cement and develop in an age of somewhat formulaic, brainless blockbusters.

The discussion was followed by questions from the audience, all of which Ishiguro answered generously and thoughtfully. All in all, the evening was highly enjoyable and a fascinating exploration of a writer’s motivations and inspirations. It uncovered fresh approaches to Never Let Me Go, as well as providing some encouraging suggestions and amusing thoughts on the creation of fiction in general. I look forward to reading much more of Ishiguro’s work!

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