Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

Nocturnes

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.

10 responses

  1. I’ve seen quite a few bloggers reading short storieslately, but I would never choose a book of ss unless it was a collection by a favorite author, like you. Glad you liked it.

  2. I got this out of the library last week and can’t decide whether or not to read it.

    I’m not a big fan of short stories, but decided to give it a try. I read the first few pages and discovered it was about music, which I’m not really in to. Do you think it is worth me continuing?

  3. Kathy – I think you’re right. Short stories can sometimes give you something a novel can’t. My mother’s short term memory is getting very bad in her old age and she finds it difficult to keep track of novels but she still enjoys reading shorter stories.

    Stacy – I do like short stories, but short story writing and novel writing are different skills and some writers are better at one than the other. Indeed some authors only write short stories and do that very well – Alice Munro and Katharine Mansfield for example!

    Belle – The writing is lovely and I was pleased to find a short story collection that was conceived as that, rather than something pulled together from a number of sources.

    Jackie – I know quiet,uneventful books aren’t your favourites, but this is fairly quick to read and well written so I would say it is worth reading at least a little further to see what you think.

  4. I heard about this and haven’t tried to get it out yet because I didn’t know whether the stories would be any good or not. I love Ishiguro, but like everyone else, short stories are not always for me. I like that they’re all related thematically, though, so I think I will give it a try. Thanks!

  5. Pingback: Nocturnes – Kazuo Ishiguro – Farm Lane Books Blog

  6. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: August 8, 2009 : Semicolon

  7. Pingback: Book Review - NOCTURNES by Kazuo Ishiguro

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