Sometimes when you discover that a favourite author’s next publication will be a volume of short stories you are a little disappointed. Something new is always nice, but a collection of short pieces doesn’t have quite the same appeal as a single solid novel.
That happened to me recently with Kazuo Ishiguro. But I quickly lost any sense of disappointment. Ishiguro has written some wonderful short novels and so the short story format might just suit him. And these are five new pieces, nothing published before, designed to work together. To explore themes of love, music and the passage of time.
And so I began to read…
First is ‘Crooner’. Tony Gardener, crooner and show-business legend, is on holiday in Venice. He hires a young café performer to help him serenade his wife from a gondola. But this is not a romantic gesture, it is something else entirely.
In ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ Ray visits the London of two university friends whose marriage may be on the rocks. The story of his stay veers between tragedy and farce, with only music offering a temporary respite.
In ‘Malvern Hills’ a young songwriter encounters an elderly couple, both musicians, holidaying in the Worcestershire countryside. A turning point, maybe?
‘Nocturne’ is darkly comic. Steve is a saxophonist and he has had a nose job, believing that improving his appearance will take his career to the next level. As he recovers in a hotel room he discovers that the famous Tony Gardener’s ex-wife Lindy Gardener is recovering from her own surgery is the next room. He engineers a meeting and the duo on a nocturnal adventure which will have some very strange consequences.
And finally there is ‘Cellists’. It’s a by far the strangest of the quintet. An American woman pretends to be an accomplished cellist and agrees to tutor a promising young Hungarian in her hotel room. To say any more than that would be unfair.
The stories are simply and clearly told. Each is distinct, but they are held together by recurring characters and themes. The tone varies, but an underlying sadness in the knowledge that everything in life is transitory never quite goes away.
They tell of everyday life and the importance of music, bringing people together and illuminating their lives. And there is as much unsaid as said – which is what makes such simple stories compelling.
Ultimately, ‘Nocturnes’ can’t hit the heights that Ishiguro’s novels sometimes reach. But accept it for what it is and it will work very well.