Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 5 2009
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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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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!
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]
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'.
Nocturnes is a collection of 5 short stories with a common theme of music and nightfall. I was hesitant about reading this, since Ishiguro's style - slow, beautiful prose - seemed more fitting of longer novels rather than short stories. Still, I wanted to see how he would pull this off, and I can't say I was disappointed. It was different than the other two Ishigoru books I've read (Never Let Me Go & Pale View of Hills), and yet there was that subtleness of Ishigoru that was very much visible in this book. I enjoyed reading all 5 stories, and liked the title story "Nocturnes" most of all.
Crooner: Set in Italy, Jan, a street musician and temporary member of a band, meets Tony Gardner, his mother's favorite singer and musician. Jan meets an older Tony, and is enlisted to help him with matters concerning love, and as the story progresses, you find more layers to Tony's mission.
Come Rain or Come Shine: I heard lots of shouting in my head as I read this one. Ishigoru's characters just leapt out of the page and I could hear them loud and clear. Charlie enlists his old college friend's help in patching matters with his wife and although the terms are unclear, when you do realize what they are, the whole story gains a very humorous light.
Malvern Hills: A young musician goes to his sister's place for some reflection time and meets people from the past; an exceptionally horrifying teacher. He also meets an interesting couple. The exquisite details and descriptions of this particular story added to the overall narration.
Nocturne: A character from the first story makes an appearance here, but the story is mostly about a gifted jazz player who makes a choice, or is almost forced into one. I loved this the most. Symbolic, with a twist of humor.
Cellists: Same setting as the first story, a saxophone player recognizes an old band mate and revists the past.
Another major theme that connected some of these stories was actions based on what other people thought best (Crooner, Nocturne), i.e, when reality and dreams conflict. Even if these actions went against personal beliefs and caused harm.
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.