Brow Beat

Mike Francesa on Kazuo Ishiguro, This Year’s Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Kazuo Ishiguro in 2015
When you are talking about Ishiguro, you are talking about a special, special talent. You are talking a once-in-a-generation talent, OK?

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM and Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images.

This post originally appeared on the author’s Tumblr, Column, in 2015.

I see here Ishiguro got a new book. This, what is it called? Around here somewhere. Let’s see. The Sleeping Giant. The Sleeping Giant.

What’s that? The Minkman’s telling me—what’s that, Minkman?

O.K., Buried Giant. Minkman says the title is Buried Giant. What’s that? The Buried Giant. With the the. The Buried Giant. Here it is here. Nice cover. With a cup on it. Chalice, I guess you call it. I don’t know. I am not a cup expert. A chalice expert. The Buried Giant. I am picturing a large guy in the ground. Look,

I don’t know what it’s about. I haven’t read it. But you always get something to think about, with Ishiguro. It’s always something to think about with this guy. You got bellhops. What was that, in The Unconsoled—some bellhop society? They were doing the dance. And the other one, with the clone kids? They didn’t even know they were—they had no idear they were clones. Always something to think about, with Ishiguro. And sometimes, you got to admit, it’s a head-scratcher. Got to admit.

Some of the critics are saying he pulled a Tolkien with this new one. With this new book. Some of them are saying it’s Ishiguro doing a George R. R. Martin.

I’m not buying it. I am not buying it.

Kazuo Ishiguro doesn’t need to pull a George R. R. Martin, O.K. You think Kazuo Ishiguro even looks up to a George R. R. Martin? That’s like saying, I don’t know, that’s like saying Michael Jordan looked up to, I don’t know, a Dean Memingah. Taking nothing away from a Dean Memingah. Fine player. Had problems after his career was over. But a fine player. And you’re telling me Michael Jordan looked up to a Dean Memingah?

I mean, maybe Ishiguro does look up to George R. R. Martin. I don’t know, OK. I have no way of knowing, OK. I am not in Kazuo Ishiguro’s house, or his cottage, or wherever it is that he lives, over there in England. His domicile. I am not in the habit of watching him pull a book down from the shelf. But George R. R. Martin? Be serious.

The guy is not a genre writer. The guy is not Louis L’Amour. The guy is not Elmore Leonard. Look, Elmore Leonard. I like Elmore Leonard, OK. Martin Amis likes Elmore Leonard. Wrote that big piece about him. Where was that, Mink? New York Review of Books? Look that up for me, would you? The Amis piece on Leonard. What was it, like ’98? I think it was ’98. Acting like he discovered him. When everybody already knew the guy. Typical Amis.

Who doesn’t like Elmore Leonard? But this is not that. Ishiguro is not Leonard. He is not a genre guy, OK. I’m not saying it’s good. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying, this is Ishiguro, OK.

When you are talking about Ishiguro, you are talking about a special, special talent. You are talking a once-in-a-generation talent, OK? You are not talking, I don’t know. Mention a writer. Whoever it is who got reviewed this week. Ishiguro is not that guy. Ishiguro is Ishiguro, OK?

Your Tolstoys. Your Flauberts. Your Faulkners. Ishiguro is playing in that league.

And for some of these critics, who have never written a book in their lives—sure, you get a Mendelsohn here and there, a Kael, an Agee, one of these critics who does a little more than give a thumbs up or thumbs down—but, for the most part, your critics, they can’t touch an Ishiguro.

A Faulkner. Your Melvilles. Your Kafkas. A Joyce. And I don’t mean Joyce Cary. I mean James Joyce, OK.

So let’s get that out of the way here and now.

Another thing. Put Ishiguro up against any of your big postwar writers. Your Mailers. Your Bellows. Your Roths. Or let’s make it easy. Let’s say the last few decades. You all right with that, Minkman? Back to the ’80s. Who’s better?

Who is better than Ishiguro?

You have your Wallaces, your Franzens. Your Munros. Don’t forget Seth. Everybody forgets Vikram Seth because the guy writes one book a decade. But when he does, they’re yuge. I mean that Suitable Boy. That was a yuge, yuge book. Couple thousand pages. Not like he got extra credit for it. But it was big. And I think they hold it against him. Great writer, OK, is Seth.

And don’t say Eggers. He’s not part of the conversation. I mean, that New Orleans book, he makes the guy out to be a saint. Meanwhile, the guy he’s writing about is wacking his family. The guy’s in jail.

Your Rushdies. Your Amises. A Julian Barnes. The literature fan of the last 20 years has been conditioned to think these are the guys. Especially in England. The cream of the crop. Meanwhile, Ishiguro’s coming through each and every time, never writes a bad book. Never writes a bad line. And you’re not seeing him up there in the rankings. That I’m aware of. Why is that? I don’t know. Is he not playing snooker with the boys? I don’t know. Is he not at the lunches and the dinners? I don’t know, OK. Like I said, I am not in his house. I don’t know what he does. I’m just putting this out there.

I’m looking through this Buried Giant book. Reads excellent, first couple pages. I don’t get what people are complaining about, OK. You got the same strange spell Ishiguro always casts. Like he’s pulling you into a world. These characters in this one, looks like they are walking around in an icy mist in the year 500. I don’t care what year it is, but that’s the year. Five hundred. He can write about any year he wants to write about, as far as I’m concerned, OK. They’re in the mist and we’re in the mist with them. And then he hits you with the sadness. And that’s Ishiguro.

Ursula Le Guin didn’t like the new Ishiguro. I read that somewhere. Neil Gaiman was very measured in his praise. Very measured. Extremely measured. Michiko Kakutani didn’t know what to make of it. She didn’t like his last one, either. Nocturnes. That was the name of that one. She didn’t get it. A book everyone has forgotten about, just because it’s a collection of short stories. But I didn’t forget about it, OK. Nocturnes. You read that one, Minkman? Had the Vienna story. The guy in the boat. The plastic surgery story in the hotel. Good stories. Nocturnes, OK.

Look, Faulkner said it. Am I right? He said he quit being a poet because that was too hard. So he started writing short stories and he quit doing that because that was too hard. So he ended up at the novel. And there you go. I’m not going to question Faulkner. The novel’s not easy but it’s easier than a story. You got more room. So it’s not like everybody’s been saying, these critics, when they keep harping on this thing that Ishiguro has been on a 10-year break. Excuse me? 10-year break? The man wrote Nocturnes. Just a few years ago. Nocturnes is a terrific book. Minkman? Did you read it? The Minkman didn’t read it. Your loss, Minkman. Your loss.

I didn’t mention Joyce Carol Oates. Updike. I didn’t mention him. They wrote a lot more books than Ishiguro has or ever will write. Last I checked it’s not a contest.

Not a contest to see who can write the most books.

It’s who can write the best books. And you only get a few. Flaubert, what did he write? Five? Six? Tolstoy? The three big novels, with your War and Peace, your Anna Kareniner, your Resurrection, and maybe you throw Hadji Murat in there. I would. I would. Good book, Hadji Murat.

Wallace. Killed himself. Look, I feel bad for the guy, but you read the books now and you want to kill yourself, too. Ishiguro is sad, OK. It’s not like the man is giving you happy endings. False sense of security. Not like he’s avoiding the tough stuff. But you don’t want to kill yourself when you’re at the last page. You don’t feel worried for him, the way you do with Wallace, which, I’m sorry, but that is a distraction I don’t need, OK. I don’t need to be worrying about the writer while I’m reading his book. If he’s all right. I just want the story.

So Ishiguro gets a little bit of a bum rap. Don’t get me started on Amis. His whole mission is to train people to consider him great. The act is not working on me. Minkman? Minkman likes Amis. That’s fine. You can like him. I don’t. Some people like Franzen. That’s fine. Franzen. He has his fans. Oprah. It drives him crazy but it’s a fact, that Oprah likes Franzen. I’m just putting that out there. I’m not saying it’s good, I’m not saying it’s bad.

I’ll tell you what, though. The Buried Giant is not going to be on Oprah’s Book Club, OK. Take that as you will. I mean, hey. I take it to mean he’s not supporting the shaky foundation this whole society is built on, OK. The one that says a guy punches you in the mouth, or bombs your country, and the next day everybody is having tea together? Like nothing happened? No. No. I don’t think so. And that’s Ishiguro. Back after this.