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Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Kazuo Ishiguro
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 5 2009 0307397874 978-0307397874
In this sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores love, music and the passage of time. This quintet ranges from Italian piazzas to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the “hush-hush floor” of an exclusive Hollywood hotel. Along the way we meet young dreamers, café musicians and faded stars, all at some moment of reckoning.

Gentle, intimate and witty, Nocturnes is underscored by a haunting theme: the struggle to restoke life’s romance, even as relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.

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Review

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A New York Times Notable Book

"A fine and moving collection of stories, displaying [Ishiguro's] unique combination of the sad, the stoic and the consoling. It's about failure, but it dignifies failure, and with it, the human condition. There is nobody like him."
— Margaret Drabble, The Guardian Books of the Year
 
"Each of these stories is heartbreaking in its own way, but some have moments of great comedy, and they all require a level of attention that, typically, Ishiguro's writing rewards."
— The Observer

"An amusing read, at times very funny.... There are a number of scenes in Nocturnes that are almost worth the price of admission on their own."
— The Globe and Mail

About the Author

Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of six novels, including the international bestsellers The Remains of the Day (winner of the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go. He received an OBE for service to literature and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars; interesting concept Aug. 25 2009
By Andrea
Format:Hardcover
[also posted on LibraryThing and LivingSocial]

This is Ishiguro's latest, a collection of five short stories all built around the theme of music. According to [...], a nocturne can be a "painting of a night scene" or an "instrumental composition of a pensive, dreamy mood." Despite the book's subtitle being Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, only two of the five stories have their main events occurring at night. It is the second definition which better suits this collection. Each story is well written, as you'd expect from Ishiguro, and each one forces you to think about it afterwards; they are deceptively simple. Ishiguro's writing is very subtle and understated, there is a lot more between the lines.

My favourite story was the third one, "Malvern Hills", in which a young, struggling musician has an interesting encounter with a couple of Swedish folk singers in England's Malvern Hills. That one was quite moving. Two of the stories, "Crooner" and "Nocturne" are loosely connected through one of the characters, which was a pleasant surprise. "Nocturne" was the most entertaining of the collection, for me, and left me wanting more because it ended without revealing the narrator's fate.
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4.0 out of 5 stars These stories live up to the book's title Jan. 2 2011
By Sears Braithwaite (of Bullard) TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read The Remains of the Day many years ago and loved his style. I was curious what his short stories would be like, after reading an interview where Ishiguro said these were basically his first ever stories--he has only written novels.

The surprise in the interview was that he originally wanted to be a musician, in fact, a rock star, rather than a writer. He worked at this for a time but gave it up.*

That background seems to inform these stories. All are about musicians and their struggles. Frustration and failure pervade their atmosphere.

Lovely stories. Worth reading and re-reading. But somehow they fall a little flat. They left me feeling that something was missing.

*So that's him and Dan Brown both. Wow. Some academic should write a thesis.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nocturnes. Sept. 3 2010
Format:Hardcover
It arrived promptly. I haven't read it as yet. It's a selection for our book club and isn't due to be presented until later
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  49 reviews
59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ishiguro back to basics May 18 2009
By reader 451 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Kazuo Ishiguro is back to his bittersweet, witty but sensitive original style. The five brief novellas of Nocturnes are intense and beautiful; they are packed with detail, never waste the readers' attention, and are entirely engrossing. In the first: Crooner, a Polish café musician comes to the assistance of a vynil-era singer who was once his mother's idol. Another story pits a greying ex-hippie against his brash and shallow university friends in a comedy of missed meanings. The third peels the multiple layers of an unexpected encounter in the Malvern hills.

I hesitated to get Nocturnes. After the awkward plot of When We Were Orphans, the controversial The Unconsoled, the gothic / sci-fi Never Let Me Go, I thought: sure, this is interesting, but maybe this is an author running out of inspiration, maybe this is someone flailing for the next idea, and now all we're getting is a collection of stories. This is what I had in the back of my mind, especially when I saw the title, with the vaguely corny musical theme, the Chopin prop. But it isn't like that. This book is in the style of Ishiguro's first three novels, and it is new at the same time.

The musical theme is an excuse; it even works. These are all moving stories with an eye for verisimilitude - the infuriating fragmented mobile-phone conversation, customer rage at the sandwich bar - and humour. Two of them got me laughing to tears - I know reviewers say that, but literally. And Ishiguro can have you laughing to tears and two pages later falling respectfully silent. Some people say they don't like short stories because it is difficult to build characters within their brief span. But this author can pack a character in fifty pages where others would take 300. And the stories aren't entirely unconnected... but I won't spoil it for you. Don't miss this!
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Music of Loss Aug. 19 2009
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
From any other author, the craft and ease of these five stories would merit four stars at least, but Ishiguro has set his own standards so high with books like NEVER LET ME GO that he may disappoint readers with this slim collection. Subtitled "Five stories of music and nightfall," the tales do have an impressive unity of theme. The protagonists are all musicians, generally putting higher ambitions on hold to play in cafe orchestras or pick-up groups; like the butler in THE REMAINS OF THE DAY they are people of great competence in their own small world, but adrift in the larger one. The nightfall element is less consistent, though each story contains an evening scene somewhere. Or maybe this is intended metaphorically, for a significant theme in most of the tales is that of a relationship coming to an end -- not violently, but with a poignant regret that is also implied by the title.

The trouble is that this consistency is also limiting. Ishiguro has rung many variations before on his theme of the competent loser, but he has relied on the context of a full-length novel to provide richness and detail, and his major books to date have all been completely different, each written in a different genre. But these five stories are too similar; their prevailing mood is comedy, veering towards farce in the second and fourth, but without significant change of tone, and the protagonists are too much alike. But the stories are charming and well-written, and share an atmosphere different from that of any other author.

The opening story, "Crooner," is set in Venice, where a once-famous crooner Tony Gardner hires a jobbing guitarist to help him serenade his wife Lindy; it is a poignant story that raises expectations for the other four. The protagonist in "Come Rain or Come Shine" is an aficionado rather than a performing musician; a small-time ESL teacher in Spain, he is invited to London by a more successful university friend, and finds himself involved in a situation that exploits his worst paranoias. The main character in "Malvern Hills" is another guitarist and also a composer; over a summer in the English countryside he becomes an unwitting catalyst in the lives of an older couple of Swiss musicians on holiday. Lindy Gardner, from the first story, reappears in the fourth, a grotesque farce set in Beverly Hills which quite fails to sustain its length. With the final story, "Cellists," we are back in Italy, but the major character is a young classical player who falls under the spell of a mysterious American woman. This is distinctly different from the other four and contains some fascinating ideas, but although its evanescent ending may be right, it leaves this reader curiously unsatisfied by the collection as a whole. [3.5 stars]
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music in -moll Oct. 3 2009
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Nightfall, the end of the day, stands as a symbol for the breakdown of human affections in the five stories in this bundle: a brief and happy encounter in `Nocturnes', a burnt out love in `Crooner', a strained relationship in `Come Rain or Come Shine', a struggling musician confronted with a quarreling old couple in `Malvern Hill' or a wrecked ambition in `Cellists'.
They are melancholic tales about `how the bosom pals of today become lost strangers tomorrow.'
The tensions between the estranged partners are sometimes extremely roughly projected on common friends or strangers who were sometimes called in to repair the broken vases.

In a subdued, but just therefore strong emotional, undertone, K. Ishiguro creates a remarkable atmosphere of sadness about the fragility of human relations.

These stories constitute a perfect introduction to the author's literary masterpieces, like `The Remains of the Day', `Never let me go' or `An Artist of the Floating World'.
Highly recommended.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stories of self-pitying losers Nov. 11 2009
By Alan A. Elsner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was a huge fan of Ishiguro's first two books. Unfortunately, there has been a sense in his recent work of a craftsman losing his touch. Ishiguro retains the rare ability of capturing an entire character through the narrative voice he creates for him. His writing is always clear and evocative - but the message has become tired and world-weary rather than self-affirming.

The five stories that make up Nocturnes are loosely linked, like movements of a symphony. Music plays a major part in all five, and some characters show up in more than one story. They also each share what is supposed to be a wistful longing tone, but more often it comes across as tiresome whining.

In the first story, "Crooner," a café musician from Eastern Europe is hired by an aging American singer to accompany him while he serenades his much younger wife in Venice from a gondola. It turns out the crooner loves his wife but has decided to replace her with a younger model to revive his fading career. How marrying a younger woman would achieve this is never explained.

The second, "Come Rain or Come Shine," tells of a failed middle-aged foreign language teacher, Ray, who returns to England to spend a weekend with old college friends Charlie and Emily. We understand that Ray and Emily, who share a love of jazz standards, were in love but never admitted it to themselves. Now Charlie and Emily's marriage is in trouble, so Charlie hatches a plan for Ray to spend a weekend alone with Emily. He figures his wife will see him in a better light after spending 48 hours with a verified loser like Ray.

In "Malvern Hills," an aspiring musician working as a kitchen hand in an English country hotel runs into a Swiss couple. They admire his talent but infect him with their own sense of failure.

"Nocturne" brings back the spurned wife from the first story, who winds up in a swanky hotel recovering from radical cosmetic surgery. In the next room is a talented saxophonist who has agreed to the same plastic surgery because his agent and ex-wife feel he is too ugly to succeed on musical talent alone. The two characters meet, bond, and share a comical adventure but are unable to forge a lasting connection.

Finally, in "Cellists," a talented young musician meets a woman who presents herself as a virtuoso of the instrument. She begins to teach him, and he feels he is making enormous progress. But it turns out she has never actually learned the instrument, although she feels she was born to be a supremely gifted cellist. By refusing to play, she says, she has preserved the purity of her gift.

What links these five short tales, apart from the overwhelming sense of failure that surrounds each of them, is the belief that talent alone does not ensure success. Indeed, without youth and good looks and good fortune, talent alone can be a blessing rather than a curse. The final story seems to suggest that the mere act of creation is always accompanied by artistic compromise and disillusionment.

It's a supremely cynical view of the world, and one can't help thinking that the author may be expressing some deeply-held bitterness of his own. That would be a shame, because Ishiguro is talented - but talent linked to self-pity does not serve any author well.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ishiguro doesn't disappoint Nov. 3 2009
By Arthur Lewis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Whenever I approach a favorite writer working in a format I'm not used to seeing him or her in, I always do so with some reluctance. I've always admired Ishiguro's longer fiction, and these short stories share many of those works' qualities. The gentle but questionable narrators, the sly comedy, and heartbreak under the surface of the main characters are all here. The theme of music, with all of the emotion by proxy contained therein, works well with the recurring themes of these stories. Highly recommended.
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