You are, in fact, a fan of Dostoyevsky.
Yes. And of Dickens, Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, Wilkie Collins—that full-blooded nineteenth-century fiction I first read in university.
What do you like about it?
It’s realist in the sense that the world created in the fiction is more or less akin to the world we live in. Also, it’s work you can get lost in. There’s a confidence in narrative, which uses the traditional tools of plot and structure and character. Because I hadn’t read a lot as a child, I needed a firm foundation. Charlotte Brontë of Villette and Jane Eyre; Dostoyevsky of those four big novels; Chekhov’s short stories; Tolstoy of War and Peace. Bleak House. And at least five of the six Jane Austen novels. If you have read those, you have a very solid foundation. And I like Plato.
In most of his Socratic dialogues, what happens is, some guy is walking along the street who thinks he knows it all, and Socrates sits down with him and demolishes him. This might seem destructive, but the idea is that the nature of what is good is elusive. Sometimes people base their whole lives on a sincerely held belief that could be wrong. That’s what my early books are about: people who think they know. But there is no Socrates figure. They are their own Socrates.
There’s a passage in one of Plato’s dialogues in which Socrates says that idealistic people often become misanthropic when they are let down two or three times. Plato suggests it can be like that with the search for the meaning of the good. You shouldn’t get disillusioned when you get knocked back. All you’ve discovered is that the search is difficult, and you still have a duty to keep on searching.
Paris Review interview with Kazuo Ishiguro
(Which I was reminded of by the earlier Paris Review manuscript post. It’s a strange, attractive personal “canon” for a novelist who seems so non-realist and anti-Victorian and perspectivist, and also a reminder that I really need to read Villette soon.)