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Recycling, Ishiguro-style

Recycling, Ishiguro-style

In a wide-ranging recent Q&A session, Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the 1989 Man Booker with Remains of the Day, made a startling confession. ‘Let me tell you a dirty secret. My subject matter doesn't vary so much from book to book. Just the surface does. The settings, etc. I tend to write the same book over and over, or at least, I take the same subject I took last time out and refine it, or do a slightly different take on it.’ This, I suspect, is not to be taken too seriously. Over the years Ishiguro's books have been analysed by academics, critics and readers and no one has yet claimed that he's been writing the same book over again. His latest, The Buried Giant, is due out in March. It is set in ancient Britain with dragons, giants and a character called Sir Gawain. Perhaps only if a butler also appears will we know whether Ishiguro was telling the truth.

She makes it sound so easy. The 2013 Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton told an audience at the Jaipur Literature Festival that ‘Ninety per cent of a writer's job is to read.’ This was simple for her, she pointed out, because her mother used to be a librarian. But in case you think that all you have to do to win the Man Booker is pour good literature into yourself as a child, what Catton didn't go on to explain was the rather more troublesome nature of that pesky remaining 10 per cent.

Someone else who has mastered that 10 per cent is Jhumpa Lahiri, whose novel The Lowland missed out to Catton's The Luminaries for the 2013 Man Booker. The Jaipur festival saw the announcement that Lahiri has been awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature worth $50,000. Lahiri couldn't make it to Jaipur to pick up the prize herself but had to phone in her thanks from Rome. It is a tough old life.

Sarah Waters did make it to Jaipur though, where she gave a perfect example of grace under pressure. When asked a rather unfair question about her feelings when her last book, The Paying Guests, failed to make the cut for the 2014 Man Booker she responded elegantly: ‘I think I have done really well with my three previous nominations. If you had told me, 20 years ago, when I first started writing, that I would one day be in a position where people would ask me, “Were you disappointed not to make it on to the Man Booker shortlist this time?” I would have fallen over with amazement and delight. My career has been an incredibly lucky one, and I never forget that.’ Now that's the way to do it.

It would be rude not to mention Hilary Mantel . . .  so, just after winning the Man Booker for the first time; she made a very prescient comment that is worth remembering among all the plaudits for the television series. Had there been a shift in the space-time continuum Henry VIII would have grabbed the plaudits: ‘He’d have claimed it,’ said Mantel back in 2009. ‘That’s the thing about Henry. Wolsey warns Cromwell that he will take credit for all your successes and he will blame you for all your failures. And that is the prerogative of an absolute monarch.’