Pulp! Influences: Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro has recently become one of my favourite authors, and in the last few months I’ve ploughed through most of his back catalogue – starting with his latest novel, The Buried Giant (2015).

Ishiguro is a Booker prize winning author, among many other accolades, well-known for his distinct, literary style, a voice you could almost say was old-fashioned. His narrators talk all around a subject – in a quintessentially British, stiff-upper-lip way – rather than address it head on, and the reader is often only given a peek at what is actually being said.

Whether it’s the secret love between butler Stevens and housekeeper Miss Kenton in The Remains of the Day (1989), the constant digressions of detective Christopher Banks in When We Were Orphans (2000) or Etsuko’s true intentions in relating the story of her earlier life in Japan in A Pale View of Hills (1982 – which led many to believe she herself is the child-murderer briefly alluded to), the reader has to understand the characters through what they are not saying, rather than what they are.

This was a big influence on my story MS Found on a Recovered Hard Drive in Beaten to a Pulp!, where I attempted to emulate this style through my narrator, Teddy, who is adamant that he is an “upstanding gentleman” despite the increasingly debauched acts he describes.

Ishiguro deals with the theme of memory in most of his novels, with most of his narrators describing events in the past to the reader, who becomes ironically aware of how memories are twisted and unreliable. In The Buried Giant – a fantasy tale, slightly left-field for a lauded ‘literary’ writer like Ishiguro – he makes this more literal, with married couple Axl and Beatrice setting out to slay a dragon whose breath causes amnesia. As well as personal troubles, a hidden genocide is also hinted at, much in the way Lord Darlington’s history as a fascist appeaser is slowly revealed in The Remains of the Day.

Ishiguro’s depiction of Arthurian England is both bleak and gorgeous and his literary take on high fantasy was also an inspiration for Year of the Money Lender (excerpt below). I love the way he takes genre fiction (sci-fi in Never Let Me Go [2005], crime in When We Were Orphans, fantasy in The Buried Giant) and raises it with literary style.

You can read Beaten to a Pulp! here.

(Photo: by Kubik / Wikimedia Commons CC)

Year of the Money Lender

Feng watched the rain from the window. It tinkled on the bells of the shrines and temples and ran off the eaves of curved rooftops in sheets like waterfalls. It danced on the Sumida which hurried by the palace, filling up the moat that surrounded the Imperial Garden. Feng detested the rain. It gave him a cold ache between the scales.

He stared out across Edo, the domain he’d protected all these years, with rheumy eyes. They were once blood red, now they were a muted maroon. Even so, they were still sharp enough to make out the seas of umbrellas in the cobbled streets and narrow alleys between the wooden houses that sprawled out from the edges of the garden. Nobody stayed home in the rain. In fact, they celebrated it: renewal, rebirth, hope. Someone must have been leaving gifts for Kuraokami again. But Feng didn’t dare burn the rain god’s shrines down. Just in case.

Feng heard Sato tramping about in the moya below, the clatter of geta on thin tatami mats and the scratch of the broom as he swept up.

“Do you have to make such a racket?” said Feng. He had the voice of a snake.

“Sorry, sir,” said Sato, “but I thought since business was quiet today I’d tidy up a little.”

Business was indeed quiet today. Normally, although it wasn’t long after sunrise, a queue would already be stretching from the low table in the centre of the room to the other side of the bridge. Some people paying rent, some paying protection, and, Feng’s personal favourite, some wanting to borrow. He cursed the rain again.

“Have one of the girls do it, you lead-footed old fool,” Feng hissed. “And speak to the Shogun. I want his men to hunt out every temple, shrine, rock and pebble dedicated to Kuraokami and move along anyone who lingers there.”

Feng glided back to his room in the upper level and rested on the piles of goat-skin rugs that covered the floor. He used to sleep in the treasury but in recent years he woke feeling stiff and the gold coins and hard diamond rocks chafed his unarmoured belly. The palace would have to do instead. More often though, in this house of men, he found himself napping.

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(Year of the Money Lender was first published by Freedom Fiction in February 2016.)

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