PW: Why set this story [Never Let Me Go], with its sci-fi premise, in the late '90s instead of the future?
Kazuo Ishiguro: I'm not much of a science fiction reader. I like James Cameron's type of science fiction in movies [Blade Runner], but I'm not really interested in reimagining the whole world and writing the details of everyday life—what cars will look like, what government will look like—80 years from now. In my fiction writing, I tend to start with a context, to ask a question: How does our childhood carry into our adult life? How do we slowly ruin our lives, become unhappy?
PW: There's a sense of inevitability surrounding the donors' fate, but no one is actually holding a gun to their heads. Why don't they rebel?
KI: We all face the inevitability of our lives coming to an end, of organs failing (if not being removed). People search for something that will carry on beyond death, through art or religion or love, but everyone has that same fate to accept. My interest, in this book, was in compressing that into 30-odd years of three individuals' lives. A lot of clone stories wind up being about slavery and a fight for freedom, but I was specifically interested in looking at how Tommy and Kathy, at least, try to love and be friends to each other in the time that they have.
PW: Is there another technology today that particularly concerns you, in terms of science outpacing ethics?
KI: All I did was imagine the world as it would be if our nuclear technology, our capacity to destroy ourselves many times over, was replaced with a kind of medical technology. The world could just as easily have developed the other way around.
PW: Do you ever find it alienating to be Japanese and living in England?
KI: I first came to the United Kingdom when I was only five years old, and I think that because of that, it wasn't as much of a cultural upheaval as it was even for my sister, who was nine years old and had already started school in Japan. It's only in looking back that I realize how kindly we were received, considering that we arrived only a few years after the end of the war. I think it indicates a real generosity of spirit in the English, who are capable of being very reserved.
PW: Your stories often have a "twilight" element to them, a sense of hope ebbing: Is there something in your own life that spawned that feeling?
KI: I think a lot of human hope does occur in the face of futility. And I think there's something very touching about that, about the strength and resilience of optimism. So I do try to leave my characters with some hope, even if it is an unlikely one.
PW: What's next?
KI: I have a sideline, which is writing original screenplays. Up until Christmas, I was working on one that was being shot in Shanghai, a Merchant Ivory production, directed by James Ivory. Now I'm working on a set of short stories, stories that relate to each other without being fully connected.
PW: Any recent books that didn't receive the attention you feel they deserve?
KI: Alex Garland's The Coma [which incorporates 40 woodblock illustrations by Garland's father]. It isn't a graphic novel, but it's more than an illustrated novel—it's an almost cinematic exploration of the unconscious. And I've been reading a lot of classics, trying to catch up after recently having the thought that I could quite possibly die without having read Proust.