“It comes at a time when the world is uncertain about its values, its leadership and its safety,” he wrote. “I just hope that my receiving this huge honor will, even in a small way, encourage the forces for good will and peace at this time.”
In a career that spans some 35 years, Mr. Ishiguro has gained wide recognition for his idiosyncratic, emotionally restrained prose style. His novels are often narrated in the first person, by unreliable narrators who are in denial about truths that are gradually revealed to the reader. The resonance in his novels often comes from the rich subtext — the things left unsaid, and gaps between the narrator’s perception and reality.
The Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje, the author of “The English Patient,” said he was “thrilled” by the academy’s choice. “He is such a rare and mysterious writer, always surprising to me, with every book,” he wrote in an email.
Born in 1954 in Nagasaki and educated in Britain, Kazuo Ishiguro is known for, among other things, his lyrical prose, his acute sense of place and for his masterful parsing of the British class system.
Mr. Ishiguro was born in Japan, the son of an oceanographer, and moved to Surrey when he was 5 years old, and attended Woking Grammar School, a school that he told The Guardian was “probably the last chance to get a flavor of a bygone English society that was already rapidly fading.”
In an interview with The Times two years ago, Mr. Ishiguro said that he had discovered literature as a young boy when he came upon Sherlock Holmes stories in the local library. “I was around 9 or 10, and I not only read obsessively about Holmes and Watson, I started to behave like them. I’d go to school and say things like: ‘Pray, be seated’ or ‘That is most singular.’ People at the time just put this down to my being Japanese,” he said, adding that he was attracted to the world of Conan Doyle because it was “so very cozy.”
After studying English and philosophy at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, he spent a year writing fiction, eventually gaining a masters of arts in creative writing, and studied with writers such as Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter.
In his 20s, he wanted to be a singer-songwriter, a pursuit he failed at, but one that later helped to shape his spare, first-person prose style. He has written lyrics for the American jazz singer Stacey Kent and still plays jazz and acoustic guitar, “no worse than the average amateur,” he said.
“My friends and I took songwriting very, very seriously,” he told The Guardian in an interview. “ My hero was and still is Bob Dylan, but also people like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell and that whole generation. We would endlessly discuss the relationship between words and music and how they had to come alive within the context of performance.”
Mr. Ishiguro stood out early among the literary crowd. In 1983, he was included in Granta’s best of young British writers list, joining luminaries such as Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie.
He published his first novel, “A Pale View of Hills, about a middle-aged Japanese woman living in England, in 1982, and followed with “An Artist of the Floating World,” narrated by an elderly Japanese painter, set in post-World War II Japan.
His deep understanding of the social conventions and affectations of his adopted homeland shaped his third novel, “Remains of the Day” which won the prestigious Booker prize and featured a buttoned-up butler, who was later immortalized in a film starring Anthony Hopkins. Mr. Ishiguro later said he had written the book in four weeks at the age of 32.
Describing the writing process for the book that cemented his literary stardom, he wrote in The Guardian: “I wrote freehand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere — I let them remain and plowed on.”
When he wrote “The Remains of the Day,” Mr. Ishiguro worried that he was repeating himself by writing another first person novel with an unreliable narrator, but critics saw the book as an extreme departure.
“I was afraid that people would say, ‘Oh, it’s the same book again, about an old guy looking back over his life with regret when it’s too late to change thing,’ ” he said in a 2015 interview with The Times. “Instead, they were saying, ‘Your books are always set in Japan; this is a giant leap for you.’ I get this with almost every book.”
A literary iconoclast, Mr. Ishiguro has played with genres like detective fiction, westerns, science fiction and fantasy in his novels. Critics viewed “The Unconsoled,” a surreal, dreamlike novel about a pianist in an unnamed European city, as magical realism when it came out in 1995. “When We Were Orphans” was viewed as a detective novel. His 2005 novel, “Never Let Me Go,” was regarded as yet another stylistic leap into futuristic science fiction, although it was set in the 1990s.
His most recent novel, “The Buried Giant,” defied expectations once again. A fantasy story set in Arthurian Britain, the novel centers on an older couple, Axl and Beatrice, who leave their village in search of their missing son, and encounter an old knight. Though the story was a full blown fantasy, with ogres and a dragon, it was also a parable that explored many of the themes that have preoccupied Mr. Ishiguro throughout his career, including the fragile nature of individual and collective memory.
In selecting Mr. Ishiguro, the Swedish academy, which has been criticized in the past for using the prize to make a political statement, seemed to be focused on pure literary merit.
The Nobel Prize in Literature is given in recognition of a writer’s entire body of work rather than a single title. Past winners have included international literary giants like Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel García Márquez and Toni Morrison. In other years, the academy has selected obscure European writers whose work was not widely read in English, including French novelist J. M. G. Le Clézio (2008), the Romanian-German writer Herta Müller (2009), the Swedish poet and translator Tomas Transtromer (2011) and the French novelist Patrick Modiano (2014).
Of the 114 winners who have received the prize since it was first awarded in 1901, 14 have been women.
Recently, the academy has often overlooked novelists and poets in favor of writers working in unconventional forms. Last year, the prize went to the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” a choice that infuriated some traditionalists. In 2015, the Nobel went to the Belarusian journalist and prose writer Svetlana Alexievich, who is known for her expansive oral histories, and in 2013, the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro won.
Mr. Ishiguro, the 29th English-language novelist to win the prize, stands out from some previous choices for his accessible prose style. A rare writer who is beloved by critics and scholars and is commercially successful, Mr. Ishiguro’s work is widely known and read, and has been adapted into feature films and a television series in Japan.
“He’s got such an extraordinary range, and he writes with such restraint and control about some very big themes, about memory and the loss thereof, about war and love” said Sonny Mehta, the chairman and editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf, who has worked with Mr. Ishiguro since his 1989 novel “Remains of the Day.” “And he does all this with great accessibility.”
In an telephone interview on Thursday, Mr. Ishiguro, sounding flustered and stunned, said he was sitting at his kitchen table writing an email in his London home, where he lives with his wife Lorna, when the phone rang. It was his agent, who told him that the Nobel committee had announced his name. His publisher and the BBC called next, then a gaggle of journalists and photographers gathered in front of his door. “It was very embarrassing,” he said. “My neighbors probably thought I was a serial killer or something.”
Mr. Ishiguro seems to be in a prolific phase: he said he’s working on a new novel, as well as several film adaptations of his books, and a couple of theater projects.
“I’ve got a novel to finish, and it’s not an easy novel,” he said. “It’s going to be just as difficult to get on with it when the dust settles as it was before.”
Who else has won a Nobel this year?
■ Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for discoveries about the molecular mechanisms controlling the body’s circadian rhythm.
■ Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish received the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for the discovery of ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves.
■ Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for developing a new way to construct precise three-dimensional images of biological molecules.
Who won the 2016 Literature Nobel?
Bob Dylan, the poet laureate of the of the rock era who sold millions of records with dense, enigmatic songwriting, was recognized with the award, an honor that elevated him into the company of T.S. Eliot, Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison and Samuel Beckett.
When will the other Nobels be announced?
Two more will be awarded in the days to come:
■ The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Norway. Read about last year’s winner, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia.
■ The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science will be announced on Monday, in Sweden. Read about last year’s winners, Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom.
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