I am a well-documented fan of Kazuo Ishiguro. If you searched my sent emails, you would find pages and pages of extravagant, over-excited recommendations sent out to friends, looking something like this:
“You have to read Never Let Me Go! It is ambiguous without being withholding, and so heartfelt and haunting.”
“OMG–The Remains of the Day–the most subtle book ever. You have to recalibrate to enjoy it, but the narrator is one of the world’s great unreliable narrators…”
“A Pale View of Hills has the craziest narrative quirks in the world–how he gets away with it, I don’t know!”
Perhaps, readers, you have received one of said emails?
So, it won’t surprise anyone that I was thrilled to receive Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall for Christmas. It’s been on my wish list since it was released and, on top of being a new Ishiguro book, it’s a collection of semi-linked short stories–my preferred sub-sub-genre.
What will surprise you, and certainly surprised me, is that I was unimpressed, unmoved, totally unenthused about this book. Ugh, nightmare. I almost didn’t post about it because I want to pretend that it’s not true.
But, it is true. I finished this collection Friday–it is now Monday and I barely remember the stories it contains. What I do remember is that each of the five did in fact concern music, as the subtitle suggests, although I can’t say that nightfall factored into them in any sort of remarkable way. Two of the stories–the first and last–were narrated by a cafe musican in Venice, I think the same one, but the narrator was so strangely inconsequential in the final story that I can’t say for sure. One of the characters from that first story also appeared in the book’s fourth story. The middle stories, if they did have a connection to the others beyond the vague musical element, I wasn’t interested enough to find it.
What did connect all of the stories beyond the theme of music was a narrative directness. In the past, I’ve loved Ishiguru’s narrators for their slipperiness, their mystery, their total unreliability. But the narrators in Nocturnes, they were out there on the page, thinking their thoughts, acting out their actions, having their relationships, playing or listening to their music, and that was that. The writing reminded me so much of the writing in Never Let Me Go–but in that book, it was deceptively straightforward. In this one, it was just one dimensional. It almost had a–I’m going to say it–a young adult feel.
Luckily, I loved Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day so much that my high opinion of Ishiguro remains undiminished. But, if you troll my outbox for notes about Nocturnes, you will find this advice: Skip it.