Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro


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.

Library Loot

My library scales were perfectly balanced this week – 4 books back and 4 books out!

The books going back were:

  • True Murder by Yaba Badoe
  • An Equal Silence by Francesca Kay
  • An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
  • A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy

All interesting books. I’ve wrtten about True Murder already and I’ll catch up with the other three over the weekend. I haven’t written much this week because I’ve been knitting a birthday present with a tight deadline.

And here is my quartet of new books:

The Clothes on their Backs

The Clothes on their Backs by Linda Grant

“In a red brick mansion block off the Marylebone Road, Vivien, a sensitive, bookish girl grows up sealed off from both past and present by her timid refugee parents. Then one morning a glamorous uncle appears, dressed in a mohair suit, with a diamond watch on his wrist and a girl in a leopard-skin hat on his arm. Why is Uncle Sandor so violently unwelcome in her parents’ home? This is a novel about survival – both banal and heroic – and a young woman who discovers the complications, even betrayals, that inevitably accompany the fierce desire to live.”

I read Linda Grant’s When I Lived in ModernTimes a few years ago and really liked it, so I had been keeping an eye out for this one. It finally turned up this week.

The Fying Troutmans

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

“Meet the Troutmans. Hattie is living in Paris, city of romance, but has just been dumped by her boyfriend. Min, her sister back in Canada, is going through a particularly dark period. And Min’s two kids, Logan and Thebes, are not talking and talking way too much, respectively. So when Hattie receives a phone call in the middle of the night from eleven-year-old Thebes, begging her to return to Canada and help sort out their family, she knows she has to go. When she arrives home, Min is on her way to a psychiatric ward, and Hattie becomes responsible for her niece and nephew. She quickly realizes that she is way out of her league, and hatches a plan to find the kids’ long-lost father. With only the most tenuous lead to go on, she piles Logan and Thebes into the family van, and they head south.”

I wasn’t that taken when I saw this book on the Orange Prize Longlist, but when I saw a copy I picked it up and I was won over.


Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

“In a sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the ‘hush-hush floor’ of an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers to cafe musicians to faded stars, all of them at some moment of reckoning. Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme: the struggle to keep alive a sense of life’s romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.”

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I wasn’t expecting to see this on the shelves so soon after publication, but I’m thrilled that I did.

Chez Moi

Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe

“At forty-three, Myriam has been a wife, mother, and lover—but never a restauranteur. When she opens Chez Moi in a quiet neighborhood in Paris, she has no idea how to run a business, but armed only with her love of cooking, she is determined to try. Barely able to pay the rent, Myriam secretly sleeps in the dining room and bathes in the kitchen sink, while struggling to come to terms with the painful memories of her past. But soon enough her delectable cuisine brings her many neighbors to Chez Moi, and Myriam finds that she may get a second chance at life and love.”

I didn’t know the book or the author, but the cherry-red spine was so appealing on the shelf. When I picked it up and  read the forst few lines I was charmed, and so home it came.


Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

And what did you find in the library this week?

See more Library Loot here.