In The Unconsoled Ishiguro has painted a vast landscape of our contemporary world, the principal forces that have shaped it and the human beings that populate it. It is neither a dream nor a nightmare as many of the reviewers seem to believe, unless the ignorance, pompousness, insensitivity -aesthetic and moral - portrayed by most of the characters of this landscape constitute a nightmare. Perhaps it does in Ishiguro's mind.
In this panorama the "characters" play their roles against the backdrop of Kishiguro's principal message: a gray, moribund society has created a cultural paralysis of emotions preventing people from communicating their true feelings to the person to whom it would matter, turning all communication into a banal distortion of these feelings, a mere aping of the socially accepted clichés of the collectivity.
A secondary motif is reflected in those "characters" who are so coarse as to be incapable of feelings: they are like bulldozers which have the force to advance, crushing everything in their path. The main protagonist, Ryder, who represents the supposedly highest expression of our culture - artistic and intellectual excellence - would be expected to have the insight and intelligence to reflect on this scene and explain the impasse. But, in fact, he proves to be just as coarse and devoid of feelings (other than total egoism) as the "bulldozers". The difference between them is that he succeeds in hiding this moral void, aided by the stupidity and conformity of a world which identifies his "refined manners" (or sophistry) with true intellectual depth.
May I suggest that the apparently surreal landscape is easily deciphered if the puzzled reader uses the following key to the novel's symbolism for society's stereotypes.
Ryder: the "Intellectual" whose small, cramped thinking reveals how conceited, obtuse, egotistic, and personally vain he is. His ignorance of human relationships leads obviously to the mess he has made of his own life. Moreover, he fails utterly to influence anything, and at the "Concert" (the highest cultural expression of the collectivity)he is present but contributes nothing. He neither "makes a speech" nor "plays the piano": he has nothing to give to the creative genius - either to rational thought or art.
Henri Christoff: "Karl Marx" or the Marxist doctrine whose rational schemes exclude all else in the human psyche.
Leo Brodsky: "l'ancien régime" of 19th century Western culture representing the old "virile" virtues and passion, but full of self-pity for being "rejected", with the single desire of returning to "the way things had been".
The "Sattler Building": belief in "Satan" with its "tall, white cylinder-shape, windowless except for a single, vertical slit near the top"; this is fundamentalist religion, which, along with Brodsky, is being proposed as a "new road" in opposition to the "failed Christoff".
Hoffman: the "Petit Bourgeois" of Western culture - with his masochistic personality struggling to conform and join the upper middle class,
Gustav: the Porter or "Working Class" - the Horse of George Orwell's "Animal Farm", the early trade union "Brother".
Miss Collins: the "Psychoanalyst" who sincerely wants to help by letting the "towns people" talk to her and ask advice, though her own personal relationships are unresolved and her analyses are old and worn, both outdated and rather artificial.
Geoffrey Saunders: the "Typical, nostalgic Englishman" who was once "the Golden Boy of School", but "Family Troubles" (end of empire) prevent him from becoming "Captain of the Team" and he ends up lonely and a failure in life.
Parkhurst: the "Inhibited Englishman" who rejects the "braying Englishman", but still feels "lonely" for the "braying" because it was the only form of communication he knows, just as "clowning" was his only way not to be "dull".
Sophie: the "Woman" who is bogged down by the small details of daily routine, blinded to the hopeless nature of "her man", hoping against hope that he will change and provide affection to her.
Boris: the male who goes from "Boyhood to Maturity" destined to take the non-existent male adult's place in the affections of the Mother.
Stefan: the "Son" who is used by his parents as a scapegoat in their own personal battles and threatened by "castration" by the jealous "elder male".