Winner of 2017 Giller Prize

Winner of 2017 Giller Prize
Michael Redhill for his novel Bellevue Square

Monday, November 20, 2017

That incomparable book reviewer, Margie Taylor, talks about Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

When is the last time you wrote a letter? Or received one?
I’m not talking about messaging someone on Facebook, having a chat on Whatsapp, or even exchanging emails – which, by the way, are going the way of the dodo. Teens have pretty much abandoned email in favour of texting while the rest of us pretend we’re too busy to read them.
But no. I’m talking about putting pen to paper and writing an actual letter. Or getting one in the mail that’s not from your bank, your landlord, or Canada Revenue. My grandmother set aside time every day to write letters to friends and family. It’s something I used to do every week. Now I don’t.
And I miss it. I miss actually looking forward to checking my mailbox. I even miss getting those Christmas circulars I used to deplore, telling me all the brave and wonderful things my friends have been up to all year. Now, there’s no point: I can read about it every day on Facebook.
I bring this up because Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the tale of seduction and revenge by Pierre-Ambroise Choderlos de Laclos, is written as a series of letters – 175 in all. If Laclos is to be believed, the French aristocracy did little else but write letters when they weren’t attending the theatre, the opera, or the ballet. And if they were as morally bankrupt and politically corrupt as depicted in this novel – well, heads deserved to roll.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thunder Bay's Diane Schoemperlen

A Lifetime Achievement Award. Diane Schoemperlen has been honoured by the Writers' Trust of Canada with the Matt Cohen Award In Celebration of a Writing Life. Schoemperlen is the author of novels, short stories and a wonderful memoir. Congratulations Diane!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Poetry Bonanza in November

Poetry wordsmiths, there are 5 poetry nights in Nov! 

1. Shaz rap poetry Blessed in The Study Thurs 16 @5pm; 

2. Northern Feminisms found poetry cardmaking thurs 16 @ 7pm 106 Cumberland St.; 

3. Spoken Word & open mic @ LU Faculty Lounge Fri. 24 @ 7pm; 

4. ONWA Poetry, Intl Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women Sat. 25 @ 7pm @ ONWA; 

5. New Constellations Tues. 28 7pm. @ Polish Hall Court St

6. Poetry Soup at the Urban Abbey Wednesday, November 29 7 pm

Monday, November 6, 2017

Joe Fiorito's Unforgettable Workshop on Writing Memoir

He Taught Us Memoir with Memoir

We hung on every word. Joe spoke in parables, most taken from his own life. His tapestry of tales gave us information about writing memoir, along with a context to help remember it.

He spoke about his time in the arctic, his early days at Lakehead University, his loves, his heartbreaks, all so personal and revealing that we, the listeners, just sat there, forgetting to take notes, our mouths hanging open. Soon we understood we were learning about memoir from Joe’s spoken memoirs.

Joe related stories about his childhood in Westfort, his family, his early writing days, his column in the Toronto Star, his books, his first publisher.

Joe told us about the career criminal, Ricky Atkinson, the leader of the Dirty Tricks Gang. Atkinson’s rough memoir became a book with Joe as co-author.

Joe went round the circle asking the participants about their writing.  Many were writers or poets or playwrights. Others planned to be. The woman who sat beside me was a painter with a good idea. She wanted to write the story of each painting. What a book that would make!

Joe used these introductions to set up questions to answer later.  Joe speaks slowly, softly, thoughtfully and also bluntly. The Westfort kid is still as tough as ever. When it was my turn, I said I wrote a few short memoir pieces, but to do so, I had to open a vein. He agreed. For him, it felt like slashing open an old sore on his arm, over and over. Joe rolled up his sleeve and pointed to the place where the ghost sore festered.

Memoir is not for the faint of heart.

I cannot retell his stories here. Too personal. They remain in that room. But I did make a few notes that I’ve tried to put in some kind of order.  Of course, each participant in a workshop picks up what is personally relevant to them. I admit I spent a lot of my time jotting down side ideas that related to stuff I’m working on now. No doubt, others have a quite different set of notes from mine.

Become an observer. Carry a notebook all the time. Go to places where people hang out and take notes. Go to the mall and watch. The patterns change over time. Annie Proulx hangs around her local bus station. You can too. There’s lots to see for a sharp observer. Hone your observation skills. Joe described spending an entire day on a Toronto street corner just observing. That day became a book, Rust is a Form of Fire.

As a child, Joe was the watcher. Luckily for him, he came from a family of storytellers and became a storyteller himself. I believe he was a story collector from a young age. As a columnist, he talked to people to tease out their stories. He reads the obituaries, hunting for those true-life vignettes that stand out from the banal sweetness and obvious flim-flam of many death notices. (My note. In my opinion, the Winnipeg Free Press has the best obituaries.) Certain obituaries capture one’s imagination. You wonder what it felt like to be that person. Analyze why you’re attracted. What details move you?

There is no such thing as writers’ block, says Joe. If you feel blocked go for a walk or go to the mall and observe deeply. Or write yourself a letter. Describe the problem. And most importantly, if you are blocked, you probably need more research.

Writing. Keep the sentences short, one thought per sentence. Use clear, simple language. It must have cadence. Read it out loud. Read it out loud with a finger in your ear. (Why this works, I have no idea, but try it anyway.). You can teach yourself to recognize cadence just as you can teach yourself many elements of the craft. Read the King James’ Bible, a book swimming in cadence. Read or write poetry. Poets are a step ahead here because they are well acquainted with the beat and pulse of language.
Start your piece with your best shot, the incident that you remember the strongest, the item that is the most memorable, that has the greatest punch.

Joe says the New Yorker magazine taught him to give information clearly. He also likes cooking memoirs. A recipe is a model of concise and accurate writing. His goal is always accuracy and precision with laser-sharp details.

Joe mentioned a technique called “squeeze and release.” You cannot keep the writing at a high pitch all the time. You must slow down, ease off, to give the reader a pause or a break. A reader can’t take too much power writing for long stretches.  

The question of dialogue came up. If you can remember it, use it. If it is in your notebook, all the better. If you can’t remember it, don’t make it up. It’ll sound phony. Never put modern phrases into the mouth of a historical character. Dialogue must be authentic to the times.

Readers. What happens when we read? We follow the story by making pictures in our minds using out imagination.  Therefore, as writers, we must aim to capture our reader’s imagination. Why do we read memoir specifically?  Many reasons. Perhaps because we want a good story, or to learn something. Maybe to find out, “what it was like.”
            But readers can be our enemy. They get bored easily. They’re faithless. They sense when the writer is holding back, fudging the truth, skipping over information. The writer has to be fearless. The reader expects a point to the memoir. Otherwise they say to themselves, “Who cares?” There has to be a purpose that is clear and a resolution.

Observation while reading. Everything you read, whether it be newspapers, advertising or books, is a teaching object. Be aware of how the piece affects you. Pause. Note your own reactions. Why did you get interested here, bored there?  Mark the place where it happens. Analyze the section. Note the emotion or lack of emotion the writing evoked in you? Perhaps you sensed the author was  faking it? If something works, try to figure out how it was done. If it doesn’t work, figure that out too and, as an exercise, rewrite it to make it better. Joe said he often rewrote the poems in the New Yorker to teach himself to be a poet.

Detail, precise detail, is important but you can’t overload your work. There has to be space for the reader to imagine.

By studying writing, you can become your own editor. It is hard to judge your own material but you can learn to do it. Do not surrender the task to anyone else. Do not give away your power.

 Getting to the Truth. You have to use journalistic methods. You must know that one person’s  experience of the past may be different from your experience. Nevertheless, that does not invalidate your experience. You can use old photographs, diaries, cards such as condolence cards, and family letters. You can interview those who were present at the time. You can learn about the historical period. You can go back to the old house or visit the cemetery. Go to the sources.

You are the Narrator. But who are you?  You are the point of view in the story, the “I.” You are the focus. You have to be shameless, put yourself out there. The reader wants to connect with you. The reader will soon sense an inauthentic persona.  You have to know yourself. Not always easy. You have to show your emotion. You cannot hide. When Joan Didion writes, she is the chief character in her book. Joe, as child and adult, is the main character in his award winning memoir, The Closer We are to Dying. He admits it was not an easy book to write.

Joe’s Suggested Reading
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. (in Brodie and Waverley libraries)
Toast by Nigel Slater.
Stet by Diana Athill. (in Waverley Library)
The Way of a Boy: A Memoir of Java by Ernest Hillen. (in Brodie Library)
Night of the Gun: a reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. (Brodie Library)
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. (get the recent edition)
The New Yorker magazine. (available at Chapters and in the libraries)

Books by Joe Fiorito
The Closer We Are to Dying (memoir)
Rust is a Form of Fire
The Song Beneath the Ice (fiction)
Comfort Me with Apples: Considering the Pleasures of the Table.
Union Station: Love, Madness, Sex and Survival on the Streets of the New Toronto
The Life and Hard Times of Ricky Atkinson; Leader of the Dirty Tricks Gang by Ricky Atkinson and Joe Fiorito.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Governor General's Award Winners.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Margie Taylor Writes About Barbara Pym's Novel Quartet in Autumn

A Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym. Reviewed by Margie Taylor.
“There was something to be said for tea and a comfortable chat about cremation.”
It’s lines like this that cause Barbara Pym to be referred to as the Jane Austen of the 20th Century. I mean, how perfect is that? Doesn’t it just conjure up a certain type of middle-aged woman at a certain time living in a certain place? It does for me, anyway. I love it.
The poet Philip Larkin called her “the most underrated writer of the century”. While I wouldn’t go quite so far, there’s no doubt she was dismissed by the critics in the 1960s for being out-of-date. In spite of her early success and the popularity of six previous novels, she was turned down by her publishers and retreated into obscurity. It wasn’t until 1977, with the publication of Quartet in Autumn, that Pym regained her public following. Quartet was highly praised and nominated for the Booker Prize – as a comeback it was an enormous success.
The book was somewhat of a departure for Pym. Previously, she’d been known for comic novels, somewhat in the style of E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia. There is a lightness about Quartet, and the characters are certainly “types”. But its underlying sadness is, I think, likely due to her own years spent floundering in the literary wilderness. There’s nothing like a decade of rejection slips to foster a writer’s sense of isolation and despair.
Letty, Marcia, Edwin and Norman work side by side in an office somewhere in London. They all live alone – they are all approaching retirement. The nature of their work is unspecified, but we’re given to understand it’s pretty boring, and not all that important: when they retire, they’re told, they will not be replaced.  
You might think four people who’ve worked together in close quarters for years would become friends. You might assume they would socialize, at least occasionally, outside working hours. You would be wrong. This is a story about a certain type of Londoner who lives alone in a bed-sitting room, fiercely guarding his – or her – privacy. Edwin is the only one who owns his own home, but none of the others have ever been inside. They wouldn’t expect to beinvited and would be shocked if they were.
In the meantime, retirement is looming. Aside from Letty, none of them have any definite plans for how they’ll spend their leisure years. Letty has a long-standing agreement with her widowed friend Marjorie that she’ll move to the countryside when the time comes and share Marjorie’s cottage. When Marjorie unexpectedly makes plans to marry the local vicar, Letty is left out in the cold. To compound her misfortune, the landlady of the house where she boards sells the place to a priest of an African religious sect, as Edwin describes him. Loud, exuberant worshipping now takes place the basement of the house on a nightly basis.
“How had it come about,” Letty wonders, “that she, an Englishwoman born in Malvern in 1914 of middle-class English parents, should find herself in this room in London surrounded by enthusiastic, shouting, hymn-singing Nigerians?”
These are not people, I have to confess, that you’d care to dine with. Or spend more than five minutes talking to at a party. Norman in particular is an argumentative, “angry little man whose teeth hurt”, and whose spirits are lifted by the sight of a wrecked car on the motorway.  Edwin, large, bald, and pink, is obsessed with the rituals of the church; outside of work he attends services throughout the city, craving liturgy and incense like an addict in search of a fix.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Readings at Mary J. Black Library, October 19, 2017

Holly Haggarty read two poems in memory of her father who died recently. The poems are "Encircled by Him," and " Case History of John." Very moving and beautiful poetry.

Roy Blomstrom read an excerpt from his novel Silences which takes place during the Finnish Civil War of 1918 and in the Lakehead in 1955.

Charles Campbell, treasurer of the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) shows off the NOWW magazines and its latest publication Twenty Years on Snowshoes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Coffee with John Pringle and his New Book, Dandelions.

I met John Pringle, one great short story writer with many awards to prove it, at Calicos last Tuesday. He handed me the only copy of his latest book Dandelions and I, with my usual grace and aplomb, immediately knocked over my coffee sending half the liquid slopping over the pages. Pringle doesn’t loose his cool easily. He simply assured me the print run will be available this week, so I was not to worry about the sodden mess on the table before him.

 I was impressed by how sincere he sounded.

Dandelions, a fine-looking book, in spite of the coffee stains, has, on the cover, a lovely photo of dandelion clocks and flying dandelion seeds as light and lovely and alive as the array of brilliant stories within. Pringle credits the book’s good looks to the skill of Deborah de Bakker who did the type setting and the cover. The launch of this, John’s third book of short fiction, will take place in the downstairs auditorium at the Waverley Resource Library on October 28 in the afternoon starting at 2 pm.

I brought along my cherished copy of his second book, Spirals, and I did not spill anything on it. It contains two of my favourite Pringle stories, ones I have read over and over. “Northern Mallards” is a layered story about a boy and his dad who go duck shooting and almost drown. The boy tries to imitate his dad’s toughness. A third strand deals with the likelihood that the boy’s parents might split up. Three themes, all twisted together, lift the story into greatness. I also love “Shambling Toward the Light” which features Fred Cummings and Norman Sanderson, who along with Norman’s bother Stanley, might be found in any northern bar or, god help us, in your own family. The brothers are alcoholic misfits. Fred is a drunken poet who, with the help of various substances, has become a philosopher of life. Happily, Stanley and his buddies appear in Dandelions. They’ll bring joy and laughter to the reader.

John also writes speculative fiction which he defines as “works not grounded in reality.” When he was preparing the layout of Dandelions, he thought long and hard about the arrangement of  the stories and finally decided to clump the six speculative fiction pieces together and put them first. “If a reader is not into speculative fiction, they can skip the first six stories and go on to the rest of the book.”  

I don’t think many will.

The first story, “A Place in the Field” was commissioned by the Atikokan Centennial Museum in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. So Pringle took up the topic and ran with it, making Queen Elizabeth the protagonist. She has a recurring dream about an incident that frightened her as a child. “I’m not sure whether the museum was expecting a piece of speculative fiction with the Queen as a main character,” he said, “but that’s what I wrote.”

Clones rule the earth in the story “Future,” but survivors are near-by. This story won the NOWW Science Fiction award. In “A New Bell” a tonal alchemist makes a bell to drive out the patriarchal religions of the western world. Last May, “The Education of Alan Woodruff” was awarded first place at the NOWW Awards in the category, “Novel Excerpt - Speculative Fiction.” “Turtle Eggs,” one of the first stories John ever published, has a boy turning into a turtle egg (note connection to Kafka and the cockroach) but here his parents don’t notice.

Pringle has lived most of his life in Atikokan. He credits his parents for giving him an early education in literature, art and music. He is grateful to his father who showed him the intricacies of the natural world. No matter where he lived and worked later, he was always drawn back to the forests and lakes of Northern Ontario. “When I was a teen, music, especially the blues, was my passion in life,” he said. He saved every penny to buy blues records at the Co-op Bookshop on Algoma Street whenever the family came to Thunder Bay. At the age of thirty, he began “grinding away” at learning the maddingly difficult art of writing short fiction. His remark reminded me of Alice Munro who said it took her three years of effort just to find out how a short story worked.

Pringle has read widely and at the end of Dandelions, he mentions Miguel de Cervantes, Ernest Hemingway and other writers who have inspired him. Over coffee, he talked about two books that made a strong impression on him. The Missing Link by Sydney Banks reveals simple principals on the working of the mind and how they create our life experiences. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harrari starts with the first humans and describes the cognitive, agricultural and scientific revolutions that define us now.

John’s first book, Truth Ratio, upgraded and reprinted with six new stories added, will be for sale at the launch along with Spirals and the new book Dandelions.

Hope to see you there.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Memoir, by Jackie D'Acre

To write one's memoir is to lay open the past with all its wounds and joys. You place your life on the page. Local author, Jackie D'Arcre has done just that. Here is the first chapter.

Untitled:  Jacqueline D’Acre’s Memoir


I sit in a hospital bed, the back raised up to an almost sitting position, my MacBook Air laptop on a wadded-up blanket on my generous belly. The foot of the bed is raised slightly so the swelling in my legs and feet is diminished. My bedroom is in a small apartment on the sixth floor of Spence Court, a rent-assisted building for seniors. There is a magnificent view of Mount MacKay rising one thousand feet just outside my picture window. I live with my cat James Bond who is tall and sleek and looks like he is wearing a tuxedo. He lives up to his name. He charms all the ladies and has a license to kill: mice. I am seventy-four years old and I have just finished telling a nurse who is giving me foot care, some of my life story. For the umpteenth time I heard someone say:
            “You should write a memoir.”
            So I am.

Chapter One
I was born February 24th, 1943 in Fort William, Ontario, Canada. My father, Jack Cryderman, drove my mother, June, through a blizzard at six a.m. to McKeller Hospital. Hours later she was delivered of a nine pound two-ounce baby girl with head of bright red hair—me, Jacqueline Dace Cryderman.  My parents wanted a boy so they named me after my father: “Jacqueline” being the closest girl’s name to “Jack.”
            My back is aching so I have to stop now.
            A year or so later my father left my mother and moved to British Columbia where he was born: in a stagecoach en route to the 100-Mile Inn on the Cariboo Trail.  When I was three he returned and the family made a small room off the kitchen—originally a pantry—into a bedroom for my parents. All three upstairs bedrooms were occupied by me, my grandparents Fred and Ida May Montgomery, and my uncle, Bill Montgomery.
It was a Sunday morning and the house was nearly empty, everyone having gone to church.  My mother was in the adjoining room, the kitchen, singing “You Are My Sunshine” in her lovely soprano. Bacon smell and sizzle filled the air. Sunlight poured in through the small window to the right of the bed. Daddy took my little hand and wrapped my fingers around a hard pink pole. He moved my hand up and down for quite a while. It hurt and I was afraid and my fear stopped me from calling out to my mother. Eventually he released my hand and I jumped from the bed and ran into the kitchen where I hugged my mother’s legs. She fed me breakfast: an egg, sunny side up, bacon, and toast with strawberry jam that had been canned by my grandmother.
            After that I had trouble meeting my father’s eyes. I would not sit in his lap and I always sat as far from him as I could get.
            In these first years I was given a dog: a cocker spaniel named Sammy. I have been told that we were inseparable, but I have no memory of him. He died young. I can’t remember how. The next dog was Rusty, an English cocker spaniel. English cocker spaniels are bigger than American cocker spaniels and have longer snouts. Rusty was a beautiful liver color with a small white spot on his chest. He went everywhere with me when I played outside, mostly with a neighbour boy who lived at the end of our block of Wiley street. His house had a birch tree in front of it while ours had a Manitoba maple. (Famously planted by my great-grandmother, Jane, but called “Ga” by little June and Bill.  Apparently she thrust a stick into the ground and it grew into this great tree.)
The boy’s name was Billy Rancourt.  We adored one another. I was exactly one year older than him but it made no difference.  We played Cowboys and Indians and Cops and Robbers. We climbed giant willow trees in a small park on Prince Arthur Boulevard, the street behind Wiley. We also loved playing in the back lane which bordered people’s gardens.  We raided them, stealing rhubarb, raspberries and peas. There were girls to play with on our street but I preferred Billy’s company. We hated to give up our play to go into our houses to pee so we peed together between the houses. We were matter of fact about it—there was nothing sexual in the act. Once mother caught us. She sent Billy home and right on the spot gave me a spanking. But that didn’t stop us, we carried on sneaking between the houses to pee.
Spanking is almost too cute a word for what transpired regularly. She hit as hard as she could, striking any part of my anatomy wherever her hand landed as I screamed and twisted trying to escape.  If she could grab a coat hanger or a hair brush handily she used that.  While this was transpiring Gramma stood to one side, arms folded across her chest, her mouth in a grim approving line.  
I was horse crazy. When I was three I began to rise at dawn, pull on a dress, panties and shoes and tiptoe from the house. I ran to the end of Wiley Street, only three blocks, and waited on the corner of Dease and Wiley. Soon, I heard the clippity-clop of a horse’s hooves and Jim the milkhorse turned the corner onto Wiley and stopped in front of me.  He pulled a covered yellow wagon, like a box on wheels, with the name “Kellogg’s” on it in brown. Jim was big with hairy fetlocks.  He was a chestnut, a reddish brown colour. When Jim stopped the milkman jumped from the wagon with a wire crate full of clinking milk bottles. He delivered while Jim walked down several houses and stopped. The milkman delivered milk to three or four houses then met Jim. Before Jim walked on, the milkman came to me and said, “Good morning, Jackie.  Would you like a ride?” I nodded yes and he swooped me up and carried me to Jim and plunked me on Jim’s broad back. I took hold of the hames, two small leather horns capped with brass balls, attached to the big leather collar around Jim’s shoulders. Jim’s hide was silky beneath my bare legs, the leather straps from the harness smooth.  They see-sawed under me as Jim walked.
As soon as Jim felt the milkman’s foot on the wagon step he started forward without any direction from the milkman.
I was above the world on Jim, high up and proud and strong. I rode Jim all the way down to my house before I was lifted off. I ran immediately into the house where no one noticed I had been gone and sneaked a crust of bread to feed Jim.  Once, as I stood by Jim’s side offering the crust to him, he took a step and accidentally caught the corner of my canvas shoe, pinning my foot to the road.  I tugged and tugged but could not free it.  Then I pushed against the top of his leg.
“Jim! Jim! Move! Please, please move!” I got a little panicky. Afraid I might get hurt. Then Jim took a step and freed my foot.  Gratefully I stroked his neck and patted his nose.  Then I snuck back into the house without a word to anyone.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Margie Taylor Reviews Nobel Winner Kazuo ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills.

Memory can be an unreliable thing.
So says the narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s debut novel, A Pale View of Hills. Published in 1982, the novel was praised for its “uncanny mix of surface calm with menace and deep tension”, a mix that would be repeated seven years later in his best known work, The Remains of the Day.
In announcing that Ishiguro had won the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017, the secretary of the Swedish Academy described him as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” It is that false sense of connection that confronts not only the characters in his novels but the reader as well, when we realize that the story as written is not necessarily in alignment with the facts.
A Pale View of Hills is set in England and in postwar Japan at the time of the rebuilding of Nagasaki. Etsuko is a middle-aged Japanese woman now living alone in the English countryside. Six years ago her oldest daughter, Keiko, hanged herself. During a visit from her younger daughter, Etsuko begins dreaming about a young girl, Mariko, the child of a woman she knew one summer in Japan.
The way it’s told, Etsuko is pregnant that summer and the woman, Sachiko, intrigues her, partly because she’s further down the road of motherhood. But Sachiko is an indifferent mother at best. Although given to lecturing Etsuko on the things she’ll find out when she, too, is a mother, she raises Mariko with a carelessness that verges on abuse. Even when it becomes apparent there’s a child murderer in the area, Sachiko remains indifferent, letting her daughter wander at will.
Mariko is not a happy child. She and her mother have a troubled relationship, and she professes to hate her mother’s boyfriend. In spite of announcing several times that her daughter’s welfare is of utmost importance, Sachiko continues to make plans for her own happiness, at the expense of that of her child.
Etsuko, who is pregnant, has her own unhappiness to contend with. She spends her days alone in her apartment, from where she can look out past the trees on the opposite side of the river. Beyond the trees she can see “a pale outline of hills visible against the clouds. It was not an unpleasant view and on occasions it brought me a rare sense of relief from the emptiness of those long afternoons I spent in that apartment.”
There are numerous similarities between Etsuko and her friend. Sachiko schemes to marry an American and leave Japan; Etsuko will eventually marry a foreigner and move to England. Like Sachiko, she will have a difficult relationship with the child she is carrying – so much so that she will bear some guilt for her daughter’s eventual suicide.
At the risk of giving away the plot, for those who haven’t read it, the twist comes near the end of the book. Etsuko, who has gone looking for Mariko, finds the child crouching on the bank of the river. The girl says once more that she doesn’t want to go away – she doesn’t like her mother’s boyfriend, she thinks he’s a pig. Etsuko replies angrily that she’s not to talk like this, adding, “In any case, if you don’t like it there, we can always come back.”
It’s this sudden change in voice – the use of the word “we” – that startles the reader. Are Etsuko and Sachiko one and the same person? Is Mariko actually Keiko, the daughter who hanged herself? A paragraph a few lines on leads us to wonder: did Etsuko kill the child that night on the river-bank? Is it possible her daughter’s death was not a suicide at all?
Ishiguro has said he was trying something a little “odd” when he wrote this book. He wanted to show how people use language to deceive and protect themselves. “So the whole narrative strategy of the book,” he said, “was about how someone ends up talking about things they cannot face directly through other people’s stories.”
What can be said for sure is that nothing can be said for sure about this story. The author is intentionally ambivalent; the ending is purposefully ambiguous. And the narrator, Etsuko, is unreliable. Is the story she relates really that of her friend, Sachiko? Or is she remembering a painful event in her own life – one connected with leaving Japan and the subsequent death of her daughter?
Kazuo Ishiguro has been compared to Jane Austen both for his “carefully restrained mode of expression” and for the important things he leaves unsaid. Because we so frequently equate that restraint with something inherently English, it came as a bit of a shock for many readers to learn that the author of Remains of the Day was born in Japan, moving to England when he was five.
But Ishiguro, of course, is a hybrid – which so many of the very best English writers are and have always been. Joseph Conrad was born in Ukraine – Henry James was from New York – Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth were born in India. In my own mind what foreign-born writers bring to the scene is a certain detachment – an ability to stand apart from one’s fellow citizens and regard them with a more objective, even jaundiced eye. Ishiguro alluded to this several years ago in an interview with The Telegraph:
“There is that slightly chilly aspect to writing fiction,” he said. “You do have to be slightly detached to say: how would human beings respond in this situation?”
I love that word – “chilly”. Not cold, but cool … deceptively muted. Take, for instance, Etsuko’s description of how she is haunted by her daughter’s suicide and the fact that it was several days before her body was discovered hanging in her room:
“The horror of that image has never diminished, but it has long ceased to be a morbid matter; as with a wound on one’s own body, it is possible to develop an intimacy with the most disturbing of things.”
That, I would say, pretty neatly sums up Ishiguro’s oeuvre to this point: intimate, restrained, and disturbing.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Kazuo Ishiguro, Nobel Price for Literature

Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors. A few years back, I read An Artist of the Floating World. A few years later, Remains of the Day. Then Never Let Me Go. Last year, The Buried Giant. He is a writer of great complexity and depth. As you read for character and plot, you realize there is a story behind the story, a story with deep historical significance. The Buried Giant, set in early Britain,  is a journey tale but its theme is memory and forgetting, especially about forgetting the brutalities of the past, a significant theme for today.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

And now the GGs.

Kathleen Winter
Non fiction
YA Text
Young People, Illustrated Books