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Book Report: Nocturnes

Your Humble Blogger is a big fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, as I’m sure y’all know by now. I can’t say I love all his books, though. When We Were Orphans didn’t ultimately work, and I barely made it through The Unconsoled. I had, in fact, almost given up my high expectations for a new Ishiguro novel when Never Let Me Go came out and knocked me for a proverbial. Wow. Not only me, of course; lots of people were knocked out. They even made a movie.

Anyway, a few years after Never Let Me Go, there was a new book, which was once more a cause for anticipation and delight. Only … Nocturnes isn’t a novel. It’s a volume of five shorter pieces, not narratively connected. That is, it isn’t a story carried on through the five stories. There are connections, thematic connections, motifs, ideas, that sort of thing. I’m not sure that each story is self-contained (I’m not sure that the novels are self-contained, if it comes to that; there is something about the way Mr. Ishiguro writes that tends to have fuzzy edges and ill-defined borders), but they have no characters in common, nor are questions in one bit answered in another. Or at all.

One of the things Mr. Ishiguro can do with his writing, in places, is evoke a kind of nightmarish fascination, an inability to divorce myself from his characters even while distrusting and disliking them. More than that—a desire to divorce myself from his characters, even while feeling trapped with them, or inside them. It isn’t very pleasant. That, actually, is one of the things about The Unconsoled and bits of When We Were Orphans that I disliked. Not that I really trust the narrators in the other books, but I am able to either keep a more comfortable distance from them or at least find my feet in their world. These stories veer more towards that unpleasant path. And then, with the five stories, going from one to another is even more disorienting and disconcerting. There wasn’t anywhere to rest.

And yet, there were bits that I liked a lot, parts of stories (if no complete stories) that I found moving and amusing. It’s true, though, that everyone is, in this book, unconsoled, and in the end, so was Your Humble Blogger. I think in Never Let Me Go, and in The Remains of the Day, there is consolation, even in the regret and madness. The characters are deluded, but they are functionally deluded.

And who isn’t?

Well, those that are dysfunctionally deluded, presumably, which include one or two of the most prominent figures in Nocturnes, and also, provisionally, elliptically, its humble readership.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I'm confused—your description makes this sound like what I would refer to as a "short story collection." Is it something different?

I'm honestly not sure. I mean, yes, it is a short story collection, although it's not a collection of short stories that were published elsewhere. He wrote these to be published as a book. And, as I say, there are connections: the stories are all first-person from an unreliable male musician narrator. It's an experimental book-length prose piece, of sorts. I mean, I think that's the idea. I don't think they are supposed to work individually.


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