A Sad Monologist: Unreliable Reporting of Dialogue in Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World


  • Laura Karttunen University of Tampere




Narratology, Pragmatics, Stylistics


The article addresses the question of who reports the dialogue in fictional texts featuring an unreliable narrator. Since no human being can remember and reproduce lengthy conversations accurately, some narrative theorists attribute direct speech representation to the author instead of the character narrator. This means that the speech of other characters may be reported reliably even if the narrator is totally unreliable. The narrator’s version of the events may then be contradicted by others, which allows the reader to perceive his biases. However, Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World illustrates the fact that direct speech reports, too, can be distorted by the narrator’s subjectivity, especially his emotions. In Ishiguro’s novel, the narrator’s grief and depression lead him to misremember and invent past conversations. Following Meir Sternberg, the article argues that the reliability of speech reporting in unreliable narration must be determined on a case-by-case basis. The text must signal that the narrator’s speech reporting is unreliable. In the absence of a signal, the reader is supposed to disregard any deviations from verbatim reproduction and to accept the transgression of the limits of human memory.