If you have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since 2009, when Garrison Keillor’s top pick John Updike passed away and thus became ineligible for the award, and you are not named Philip Roth, you may expect to be called “a writer of migraines.”
That’s the first of many insults lobbed by the former host of “A Prairie Home Companion” at this year’s laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro, over his fatal flaw of not being Philip Roth. Writing in The Washington Post, Keillor went on to declare that not one person would want to have dinner with any of the three authors to which the Nobel Committee compared Ishiguro: Jane Austen, Kafka and Proust.
Other invectives included the remark that “what the Nobel judges recognize is bleak, cramped, emotionally stunted, enigmatic, pretentious,” a description of Ishiguro’s critically-lauded work as “dull and deadly,” and a claim that the Swedish Academy, which bestows the Nobel Prizes, is “leading young writers to aspire to vacuity.”
Of course, before the regrettable passing of Updike — that author, for the record, appears to still rank higher than Roth in Keillor’s estimation; in a 2014 memoir, he imagined giving Updike a posthumous Nobel — Keillor was just as starkly ill-enthused by the Swedish Academy’s choices. Doris Lessing took home the prize in 2007; he deemed her writing to be “like Greenland without the melting.”
His complaint towards both Ishiguro and Lessing was essentially the same: Their prose lacks panache, and worse, humor. “Why can’t you ever give the Nobel Prize to a writer with a sense of humor and style? Why?” he begged, while bemoaning the choice of Lessing on “A Prairie Home Companion.” “All the Swedes with a sense of humor came to America,” he mourned, writing on Ishiguro.
Never fear, Keillor is uninterested in confining himself to kvetching; he has an idea about how to change things for the better.
“Let the Jews give the Nobel Prize,” he wrote. (This particular Jew thought Ishiguro was a perfectly acceptable choice for the Award.)
“They know from literature,” he went on. “Compare a list of great Jewish writers and a list of great Swedish writers. I rest my case.”