Kazuo Ishiguro, the living writer behind critically acclaimed novels such as “The Remains of the Day,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “Klara and the Sun,” recently shared a moment of realization that struck him during the filming of the movie adaptation of his book, “The White Countess” in 2005. The film starred British actor Bill Nighy, and it was during a conversation with Nighy that Ishiguro had a sudden “eureka” moment that he says changed the course of his writing.
In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Ishiguro shared the story of his chance encounter with Nighy on the set of “The White Countess.” Ishiguro was watching a scene being filmed when Nighy, who was playing the lead, approached him between takes. “We were chatting, and he said something that really surprised me,” Ishiguro recalled. “He said, ‘You know what I love about your work? It’s so unashamedly emotional.'”
This comment, Ishiguro said, was revelatory. “It caused something to click in my head,” he said. “I realized that I had been holding back in my writing, that I had been trying to distance myself from my characters and their emotions.” Ishiguro had always prided himself on his spare, restrained style, but now he saw that he had been missing something crucial. “I realized that I needed to let my characters feel more, to let myself feel more,” he said.
Ishiguro’s realization had a profound impact on his subsequent work. His next novel, “Never Let Me Go,” is widely considered to be his most emotional and affecting work, and it marked a departure from the more austere style of his earlier books. “Never Let Me Go” tells the story of three friends who grow up in a dystopian society where human clones are created to serve as organ donors. The novel is a devastating exploration of love, mortality, and the human condition, and it is often cited as Ishiguro’s masterpiece.
Ishiguro’s newfound emotional openness has clearly struck a chord with readers and critics alike. In 2017, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for, among other things, his “novels of great emotional force.” The Nobel committee praised Ishiguro’s ability to “uncover the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world,” and his “unflinching portrayal of human vulnerability.”
As Ishiguro prepares for the release of his latest novel, “Klara and the Sun,” he is reflecting on the impact that his conversation with Bill Nighy had on his writing. “It was a real turning point for me,” he said. “It made me realize that being emotional is not a weakness, that it’s actually a strength. It’s what connects us to our readers, and it’s what makes our stories resonate.”
“Klara and the Sun” is a departure from Ishiguro’s earlier work in some ways. It is his first novel to feature an artificial being as its protagonist, and it is also his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize. But in many ways, it is a continuation of the themes that have defined Ishiguro’s career: human frailty, mortality, and the power of love.
The novel tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend designed to provide companionship to a lonely teenage girl named Josie. Klara is a highly advanced machine, capable of learning and growing as she interacts with the world around her. As she observes and interacts with the humans around her, she begins to develop a sense of empathy and emotional intelligence.
Like many of Ishiguro’s characters, Klara is presented as an outsider, a being who is trying to make sense of a world that is often confusing and bewildering. She is a symbol of our own human fragility, and the novel asks us to consider the value of our own emotional lives.
As Ishiguro looks ahead to the 2023 Oscars, where the movie adaptation of “Klara and the Sun” may receive nominations, he is philosophical about the ups and downs of the creative process. “Writing can be a very solitary and uncertain activity,” he said. “You never know if what you’re doing is any good. But then you have these moments of connection, where you realize that your work is reaching people in ways that you never imagined. And that makes it all worthwhile.”