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Ishiguro, the Nobel and Guildford

Ishiguro, the Nobel and Guildford

Amid the global interest in (and approval of) Kazuo Ishiguro being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the most charming piece of coverage came from the Surrey newspaper The Guildford Dragon: “News of the 2017 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, has been widely reported by the national media this week,” it trumpeted. “But what appears not to have been noted is that he lived in Guildford and went to Stoughton Primary School.” Also worthy of notice was the fact that the would-be novelist grew up in “Grange Close, off Grange Road, Stoughton” and that his mother once returned from Japan with the gift of a dish for the Ishiguros’ neighbours Alan and Joan Mead.

Salman Rushdie, Man Booker winner in 1981, was in feisty form at the Cheltenham Literature Festival recently. He was no fan of the Koran, he said, because “only about a quarter of the book is stories”, while the world would be a better place without any religion “because it is an absurdity that gets people killed”. Absurdity is never far from modern American life either, and Rushdie, who recently became an American citizen, also addressed the issue of the President’s travel ban: “They can't stop me now because I have got a passport – and New York is not Trumpistan.” He hasn’t been holding back elsewhere either, adding his tuppence-ha’penny’s worth to the gender-fluidity debate. “To put it crudely, if there’s a boy who likes playing with dolls and wearing pink shirts it shouldn’t necessarily mean that he has to have gender reassignment surgery,” he said. “Until quite recently that would never have occurred to anyone, so I think we maybe need to just back off a little bit.” Oh, and he still had some energy left to take a pot-shot at “what is it now called? What used to be the Orange, the Baileys Prize? I just think there’s no need for women to be put in a ghetto. . .  Try putting Doris Lessing or A.S. Byatt into a ghetto. They wouldn’t like it.”

Rushdie cropped up too in the wake of the death of Hugh Hefner. In a look back at her time as the literary editor of Playboy, Amy Grace Loyd pointed out that while beautiful starlets were Playboy’s stock in trade, the magazine had from the start published serious pieces about literature by serious literary figures. Nabokov, Updike, Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates all wrote for it. So too did the Man Booker winners A.S. Byatt, Margaret Atwood and John Banville, as well as Man Booker International winner Lydia Davis. Loyd recalled approaching Rushdie for a piece: “His agent quoted me at $10 a word. Our coffers weren’t that deep, and I’m sure the agent knew that.” And so Rushdie missed out on the chance to become a centrefold.

With the 2017 Man Booker winner due to be revealed in a matter of days there is yet time to book a place at the first public event he or she will make. The victor, still alternating between flushing pink with pleasure and draining pale with shock, will be appearing in conversation with the New Statesman’s culture editor Tom Gatti at 7.00pm at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London on 19th October. Tickets are available here.

Who will you see at Foyles? At the time of writing, less than a week to go until the announcement, the bookies have George Saunders installed as their favourite at 5/4, followed by Ali Smith (7/2), Paul Auster and Fiona Mozley (11/2), Mohsin Hamid (8/1) and Emily Fridlund (10/1). The bookies got the shortlist horribly wrong, with Colson Whitehead the hottest of hot favourites, so one wonders if they have regained the gift of second sight.