Saturday, June 23, 2012

You Asked for My Innermost Thoughts. I Wonder Will I Ever See a Grape Again?

Two h/ts to Hamster for today's post, the first for reminding me of this Kazuo Ishigura interview in the Paris Review from 2008. Here's Ishigura when asked about The Unconsoled:

Shortly after the publication of The Remains of the Day, my wife and I were sitting in a greasy spoon, having a discussion about how to write novels for an international audience and trying to come up with universal themes. My wife pointed out that the language of dreams is a universal language. Everyone identifies with it, whichever culture they come from. In the weeks that followed, I started to ask myself, What is the grammar of dreams? Just now, the two of us are having this conversation in this room with nobody else in the house. A third person is introduced into this scene. In a conventional work, there would be a knock on the door and somebody would come in, and we would say hello. The dreaming mind is very impatient with this kind of thing. Typically what happens is we’ll be sitting here alone in this room, and suddenly we’ll become aware that a third person has been here all the time at my elbow. There might be a sense of mild surprise that we hadn’t been aware of this person up until this point, but we would just go straight into whatever point the person is raising. I thought this was quite interesting. And I started to see parallels between memory and dream, the way you manipulate both according to your emotional needs at the time. The language of dreams would also allow me to write a story that people would read as a metaphorical tale as opposed to a comment on a particular society. Over some months I built up a folder full of notes, and eventually I felt ready to write a novel.

There are two plots. There’s the story of Ryder, a man who has grown up with unhappy parents on the verge of divorce. He thinks the only way they can be reconciled is if he fulfills their expectations. As a result, he ends up as this fantastic pianist. He thinks that if he gives this crucial concert, it will heal everything. Of course, by then, it’s too late. Whatever has happened with his parents has happened long ago. And there’s the story of Brodsky, an old man who is trying, as a last act, to make good on a relationship that he’s completely messed up. He thinks that if he can bring it off as a conductor, he’ll be able to win back the love of his life. Those two stories take place in a society that believes all its ills are the result of having chosen the wrong musical values.

It’s never my intention to be willfully obscure. The novel was as clear as I could make it at the time, given that it was meant to follow dream logic. In a dream, one character often will be portrayed by different people. I used that technique and I think that led to some confusion. But I wouldn’t change a word of The Unconsoled. That’s who I was at the time. I think it has found its place over the years. I get asked about it more than anything else.

Yes, people don't enter in Ishiguro novels, they appear, materialize. And, having reread it within the past three months and rereading this interview now, perhaps I'm reading better than I think I am. I keep urging When We Were Orphans on Planet (my urging of Donald Harington WORKED!), I keep urging you to read Ishigura.


Mary Ruefle

Beloved, men in thick green coats came crunching
through the snow, the insignia on their shoulders
of uncertain origin, a country I could not be sure of,
a salute so terrifying I heard myself lying to avoid
arrest, and was arrested along with Jocko, whose tear
had snapped off, a tiny icicle he put in his mouth.
We were taken to the ice prison, a palace encrusted
with hoarfrost, its dome lit from within, Jocko admired
the wiring, he kicked the walls to test the strength
of his new boots. A television stood in a block of ice,
its blue image still moving like a liquid center.
You asked for my innermost thoughts. I wonder will I
ever see a grape again? When I think of the vineyard
where we met in October-- when you dropped a cluster
custom insisted you be kissed by a stranger-- how after
the harvest we plunged into a stream so icy our palms
turned pink. It seemed our future was sealed. Everyone
said so. It is quiet here. Not closing our ranks
weakens us hugely. The snowflakes fall in a featureless
bath. I am the stranger who kissed you. On sunny days
each tree is a glittering chandelier. The power of
mindless beauty! Jocko told a joke and has been dead
since May. A bullethole in his forehead the officers
call a third eye. For a month I milked a barnful of
cows. It is a lot like cleansing a chandelier. Wipe
and polish, wipe and polish, round and round you go.
I have lost my spectacles. Is the book I was reading
still open by the side of our bed? Treat it as a bookmark
saving my place in our story.

(here the letter breaks off)


  1. Ahh, nothing like a pile of dreck from Hiatt and Diehl first thing in the morning.

  2. Supersonic swarms of robot bugs is what happens when you deny Wesley caffeine.