Kazuo Ishiguro is the critically-acclaimed Nobel Prize-winning author of eight novels. Ishiguro has also written short stories, screenplays, lyrics, and more. Recently, Ishiguro was even nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay for the film Living. The author is widely celebrated — nearly all Kazuo Ishiguro books have been nominated for awards — and he is widely read.
Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors. What makes his work so fascinating to me is his ability to play with different genres and settings. And yet while all of his books explore wildly different worlds and scenarios, they all explore similar themes: what it means to be human, the complexities of love (in all of its forms), the melancholy of nostalgia, and other social issues.
Any Kazuo Ishiguro books you pick up are going to be a banger. All of them are enjoyable reads that will make you think and will likely never leave your mind. So where to begin with Kazuo Ishiguro books? If you’re wanting to read his books, here is the order I would suggest.
Never Let Me Go is one of my favorite novels of all time, and I think it’s a great entryway into Kazuo Ishiguro books. The novel is set at Hailsham, a special school for special children. Kathy and her friends Tommy and Ruth grow up at this strange English boarding school, but no one ever tells them what makes them so special. They’re only told that they must take care of themselves, and they are given very little contact to the outside world. But as they get older and eventually leave the ground of Hailsham, the truth about their purpose in this world becomes horrifyingly clear.
Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize, the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award, and for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award. It was also adapted into a film starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield in 2010. Give this novel a read, and then definitely check out the movie as well. It’s gorgeous, and the screenplay was written by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihiliation), another one of my faves.
After you read Never Let Me Go, the next Kazuo Ishiguro novel you should pick up is The Remains of the Day. This novel received the Booker Prize for fiction in 1989. This novel is told from the perspective of Stevens, an English butler who has spent his life at the service of Lord Darlington, who has recently died. As Stevens looks back on his life and his time with Lord Darlington, he reflects on his relationship with Miss Kenton, the housekeeper at Darlington Hall, and the love story that was never fully realized.
Like Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is a highly introspective novel that deals with similar themes of classism, regret, and reexamining the past with the wisdom of the present. And like Never Let Me Go, this story was also adapted into a film. The film version of The Remains of the Day was released in 1993 and stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
Kazuo Ishiguro has truly tackled nearly every genre. Never Let Me Go dapples with dystopian genre conventions, The Remains of the Day plays with romance, and When We Were Orphans — the third Ishiguro novel you should read — is Ishiguro’s take on mystery/detective fiction. This is the story of Christopher Banks, who was born in Shanghai but orphaned at a young age and sent to live in England. Twenty years later, Christopher is a detective and returns to Shanghai to uncover the truth of his parents’ mysterious disappearance.
When We Were Orphans was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2000. It was also nominated for the Whitbread Award. While Ishiguro himself has said that When We Were Orphans is not his best book, there’s a lot to like about this novel. While this is a detective story, Ishiguro elevates the content by using the genre conventions to explore the fallacies of human memory, trauma, and identity.
For your fourth Kazuo Ishiguro novel, pick up The Buried Giant, where Ishiguro takes on the fantasy genre. This book is set in England shortly after the death of King Arthur. It follows an older couple, Axl and Beatrice, as they try to find their son, whom they haven’t spoken to in years. In this world, people have difficulty retaining longterm memories, so Axl and Beatrice’s search is complicated by the fact that they only vaguely remembering having a son. It’s clear from this synopsis that Ishiguro is still playing with the concepts of memory and identity. And yet because this story is unlike anything else Ishiguro has written, this perspective still feels fresh.
The Buried Giant was Ishiguro’s first novel in 10 years after Never Let Me Go in 2005. Ishiguro told The New York Times that part of the reason this novel took so long to write was because the setting was so different from anything else he’d ever written and he was unsure he was doing it well. After his wife Lorna read the opening pages of the book, she told him the brutal truth: “This will not do…I don’t mean you need to tweak it; you need to start from scratch. None of this can be seen by anybody.” And so Ishiguro set the book aside and started over six years later. It was well worth the wait though!
Klara and the Sun is the author’s most recent novel, and it should be the next stop on your Ishiguro journey. This dystopian science fiction story is told from the perspective of Klara, a solar-powered AF (artificial friend) who becomes the companion of a child named Josie. The novel plays with themes of identity and humanity, and it also explores environmentalist issues.
Thematically and genre-wise, the book will feel like a return to the style of Never Let Me Go. The narrator’s voice here also feels similar to Never Let Me Go‘s Kathy. Klara is introspective, empathetic, and yet she also seems a little emotionally removed from the events of the book. If Never Let Me Go has been your favorite novel of Ishiguro’s so far, then you will definitely also appreciate this one.
I hope you end up loving the worlds of Kazuo Ishiguro as much as I do. Ishiguro books, no matter which one you choose to read first, are all truly special. Looking to discover more authors and find what books of theirs to read first? We have a whole reading pathways series that you’re going to love.