Bob Dylan was the best thing that could have happened to Kazuo Ishiguro. Had the British novelist won the Nobel Prize in 2016 instead of 2017, you can bet the decision would have been met with the same usual (and often valid) complaints. Why another man? Why another English-speaking author? Why him and not Philip Roth, Murakami, Margaret Atwood, <insert your favourite Nobel snub here>?
I’m sure some would even question the quality of his work. How could the Swedish Academy honour such a mainstream author, who dared to write a science-fiction novel and even had two of his books adapted into movies? Had the guardians of literary value surrendered to the taste of the masses?
But of course, as we all know it, 2017 isn’t 2016. In the post-Dylan literary world, all the arguments above have lost their relevance. Last year’s big Nobel controversy has drowned out all other long-running minor controversies which always followed the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s award comes at a time when the literary world is ready to forget its divisions and unite behind its current champion. Even die-hard fans of Philip Roth and Murakami seemed ready to applaud the Swedish Academy’s decision to recognise the efforts of an accomplished novelist. “At least it was a real writer this time,” they will say, and wait patiently for another year. What a change from their pre-2016 behaviour.
All bickering was forgotten. Pretty much every article I have read about the Nobel Prize openly praises Kazuo Ishiguro for what he is: a gifted novelist whose words can appeal to both critics and mainstream readers, and a master storyteller who can move the story forward with what he shows, while deepening its meaning with what he chooses to conceal.
I’m thrilled that more people will be discovering the work of Kazuo Ishiguro after this award. I’m also convinced that the fact that he was the first Nobel Prize winner after the Bob Dylan controversy will also be a massive PR boost. It has been a while since the last time so many people were paying attention to the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Casual readers who decide to give his books a try will discover a writer whose work has undeniable literary worth but is also surprisingly accessible. How often can you say that about a Nobel winner? I like Roth and Murakami as much as the next guy, but I couldn’t have imagined a better result for this year’s prize.