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Friday, September 25, 2009

"Nocturnes" by Kazuo Ishiguro (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Kazuo Ishiguro at Wikipedia
Order "Nocturnes" HERE

INTRODUCTION: Kazuo Ishiguro should not need any introduction as one of the most famous British contemporary authors with six well known novels under his belt, of which Remains of the Day won a Booker prize and got made into a superb movie too, while When We Were Orphans - a play on both the historical mystery genre and the unreliable narrator style of storytelling - and the most recent Never Let Me Go - speculative fiction of the highest order - were both shortlisted for the Booker.

So when his new book, "Nocturnes" was announced I was very excited and I got it and read it on publication earlier this week and was enchanted as usual by Mr. Ishiguro's style, humor and superb storytelling. While not a novel, "Nocturnes" is more than a short story collection since the five stories inside are thematically linked and feature recurring characters; all five stories are told in first person as is Mr. Ishiguro's wont, though not all the narrators are the "main character" of the respective stories..

Subtitled "Five Stories of Music and Nightfall", "Nocturnes" starts with "Crooner", a low key story about a late middle aged famous singer who feels that he is losing his "place at the top" so he decides he needs some radical changes in his life; this story is more distant and less involving than what comes next, but paves the way for the increasingly emotional and powerful stuff that culminates into two brilliant stories at the end.

The middle two stories "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and "Malvern Hills" are similar to some extent, though they feature a narrator who understands a musical couple and a musician who is not really understood by another couple he works with. They are both very good stories which build emotion and mood.

And now we come to the pieces of resistance of the collection, "Nocturne" and "Cellists" which are as good as anything I've read recently.

Written as a semi-funny, semi-pathetic confession of a second rate musician whose wife leaves him for a rich friend but as a sort of consolation prize , arranges for her new beau to pay for cosmetic surgery for him since as she puts it, only his looks keep him for elevating his career to the top level, "Nocturne" is hilarious, sad and choke full of surprises at turns and it's just a pitch perfect story.

Showing the author's range, the boisterous "Nocturne" is followed by the wistful story "Cellists" in which the tale of a poor East European musician who finds a beguiling and unexpected muse in an Italian hotel is told from a distance by an acquaintance of his. "Cellists" is another story I could read ten times without getting bored by it, being so beautifully written and satisfying.

Overall with two A++ stories, two A stories and a good B like beginning one, "Nocturnes" is a highly recommended collection and a good introduction to Mr. Ishiguro's art.


Myshkin said...

I'm not seeing how this collection is speculative, or why it should be reviewed on FANTASY book critic.

Liviu said...

While I review many sff works, I review also high quality books that impressed me, including historical fiction, mainstream...

And if you want a connection to sff, Kazuo Ishiguro has written Never Let Me Go which is superb

But do not worry, Her Fearful Symmetry by A. Niffenegger and The Year of the Flood by M. Atwood which are my next reviews are sff

Harry Markov said...

I for one think that it is great to feature some novels that capture the magic and fantasy rooted in our own lives and that prove that life can be as full of enchanting mystique in its own way.

I love the gradation here. The collection starts slow, eases you in and builds a whirlwind of an emotional culmination. Sounds lovely.

Liviu said...

That's my idea too of sprinkling superb non-sff offerings though of course I still give priority to sff ones in reviewing here and as mentioned my next planned 6 reviews are all sff, though after that I may review Wolf Hall by H. Mantel depending on how much I like it

There is also the "burnout" factor which I have been avoiding for 20+ years now by mixing my reading a lot, though again sff at large is probably 80% of my reading with "core genre" maybe 70% of that

Jessica ( frellathon ) said...

I have yet to read one of his books. Yes I know I must be the only one. That's not to say I don't want to it's just only so much time to get to all the books I want. Having said that this sounds like a good place to start to get a feel for an author which is why I love short stories.

Plus I think your blog is awesome and you should review anything you feel like. There is nothing wrong with variety. Fantasy is usual yes but the occasional "other" to give us something different sounds just as good.

Liviu said...

I read 3 novels by Mr. Ishiguro before Nocturnes and each was a highlight - Never Let Me Go, When We Were Orphans and Remains of the Day - they share beautiful, almost mesmerizing first person writing, but they are very different in themes and structure

I have his other 3 novels too and I plan to read Unconsoled soon and the other 2 (Floating World, Pale View of the Hills) also


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