Nocturnes. Five stories of music and nightfall


Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest work – and long awaited, at least by me (so thanks Anthony F. for bringing in around 😀 ) – is a short story collection. Personally, I’m not really into short stories – given the choice, I’d rather go for a novel, but I’ve read some amazing ones this past year (and here I’m talking about Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of maladies) and I have to say the Nocturnes is not really in the same league. OK, so this isn’t the best comparison; to be more straightforward – it’s not Mr. Ishiguro at his best. He’s great at creating atmosphere, at appearing to randomly gather elements to sketch a whole range of imagery and emotion that the span of a short story simply doesn’t allow for.

Hmm…perhaps I should have started off with the good? Because there is a lot of it and, while I’m not sure this book will bring him legions of new fans, for the Ishiguro enthusiast there is plenty to regale with. All 5 stories have the same general feel of most of Ishiguro’s works: nostalgia, loss, longing – creating a certain sense of a shared intimacy with the characters. All stories are narrated in the 1st person but, stylistically, they are very similar; or perhaps the differences are too nuanced and subtle – either way, it didn’t feel like 5 distinct voices (although each narrator had his own backstory). What they all share is music – and more precisely, musicians. Four out of these 5 narrators are musicians – be they seasonal players in some Italian piazza (like in Crooner and Cellists) or artists trying to find their voice and place in the world of records and touring (Malvern Hills and Nocturne).

Come Rain or Come Shine stands out for a couple of reasons: the narrator is a teacher in his 40s, visiting his college friends in London (who are going through a rough patch in their marriage) and the „music” part of the deal is the memory of the peculiar record collection that had brought them together 20 years before and which, even if briefly, brings them together still. Plus, the occasional toying with the absurd brings back memories of The Unconsoled – and this is perhaps the most important thing setting it apart.

My favourite though was Malvern hills – the English setting, the young guitarist trying to make it as a singer/songwriter, the visiting middle aged Swiss couple dealing with their son’s indifference and their diminishing enthusiasm and joy got their profession – all great stuff 🙂

I kinda have one more thing to criticize: Nocturne felt a bit clichéd: the greedy agent who would do anything to push his client higher (even if said client harbours well founded reservations), the entertainment industry’s obsession with form over content, looks over talent, starlets born out of gossip magazines – all just too obvious. But even so, Mr. Ishiguro manages to insert a twist and a bit of soul and humour in this all too familiar concoction.

Looking back over what I’ve written so far, I realize that I appear a bit inconsistent – saying I enjoyed the book and then doing all this nit picking. Thing is, while I was reading, none of the book’s shortcomings sprang to mind, I was too engrossed in…well….reading 😀 So in the end, I did like it, but I’m still hoping for a new novel 😉

Most of the reviews I skimmed through were positive – The Times, Guardian, The Financial Times (with a contribution by Jonathan Coe)…only The Spectator seems a bit…cautions.


~ by ameer on June 13, 2009.

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