Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

How wrenchingly ironic that this was the book I happened to be reading when I learned of a sudden death in our family. On the flight, in the car, during the rare moments of aloneness over the last four days, Kazuo Ishiguro’s stories that spoke of lost chances and endings provided an ideal counterpoint – both gentle and piercing – to the maelstrom of required public and private events of mourning.

Nocturnes – Ishiguro’s only short story collection thus far, as well as his latest title – is comprised of five stories in which music plays a principal role. Some are interlinked: two share characters, two share locations. In the opening “Crooner,” a young guitarist is hired by once legendary singer Tony Gardner – who was the guitarist’s mother’s favorite star – to play underneath Gardner’s wife’s open window as Gardner sings her love songs on the final evening of their bittersweet Venetian vacation. Lindy Gardner, that very wife who is now divorced, reappears in the (singular) “Nocturne,” recovering from cosmetic surgery in a posh Los Angeles hotel, sharing musical adventures with a saxophone player whose agent, soon-to-be ex-wife, and her lover convince the gifted musician that his less-than-gorgeous looks are the only obstacle to major success. In the finale, “Cellists,” the story returns to Venice, perhaps to the same transient band in “Crooners,” in which possibly another member – this time a Hungarian cellist – meets another American musician who nurtures and refines his already considerable talents … but to what end?

Of the remaining two pieces not linked to the three above, both feature troubled ménage à trois-of-sorts: “Come Rain or Come Shine” examines a trio-friendship decades after its university beginnings, in which the loner – a jazz purist – visits the couple on the verge of separation; in “Malvern Hills,” a struggling young British musician finds himself unexpectedly, intimately wedged in between a Swiss couple on their countryside holiday.

For Ishiguro devotees, Nocturnes might prove to be lighter fare than his six previous novels (and, yes, I’ve read each with fervent reverence). While each of the brief movements of this quintet are memorably haunting, the short story form just doesn’t allow enough space for the soulful, detailed, exquisite explorations that define Ishiguro’s longer work. That said, for an enhanced experience, I highly recommend the narrated version, made noteworthy with careful phrasing and added accents, especially as voiced by Mark Bramhall who begins and ends the audible collection.

Read (or listen) … the best music will always move you to tears, no?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

7 Comments

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Short Stories, British, British Asian

7 responses to “Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. Really enjoyed this set of stories and the interviews in the Guardian around it, there was even a short arty film made by someone, inspired by it which was excellent.

    • I purposefully waited awhile (three years!) to read the collection because I knew I’d be wanting more … that waiting for the next book by a favorite author is always so challenging for impatient me. Hopefully another novel is on its way sooner than later!

      I read somewhere that if anyone else but Ishiguro had written these stories, they would be considered spectacular. But since he’s already set the bar so impossibly high for himself with his novels, this collection didn’t quite reach those heights. I have to agree that I prefer his novels (if I were forced to choose), but this slim quintet will always have a special place in my reading heart. The timing was rather perfect. In spite of the bittersweet moments, each of the musician-narrators manages to survive (maybe even with hopes of flourishing for a few …). They’re a bit disappointed, frustrated, damaged, battered, but they’re not going to give up — I felt like I needed to recognize that resilience, and maybe even imagine a few happy epilogues in my head at book’s end …

      The only film based on Ishiguro’s work that I’ve seen is Remains of the Day. In general, I skip most film adaptations, but I couldn’t miss Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson! I find Keira Knightley unbearably grating, so can’t imagine that I will ever see Never Let Me Go. Did you see it? What did you think? Did you see the short arty film you mention?

  2. I haven’t seen Never Let Me go nor have I read the book, another one still on the shelf.

    The short film I mentioned is perhaps more of a tribute than a film, a work of art in itself and amazingly I have actually found it again, considering how long ago it was made – and yet it feels like not so long ago that I first saw this short clip and read an interview with the author, then couldn’t wait to read the book that had inspired it. With all that preceding the read, I saw few flaws and just enjoyed the whole experience of something slightly different to the norm.

    Voila, here is George Wu’s clip inspired by Nocturnes

    • Oh, how delightful!! The whole book in just 2:51 … and the maker, George Wu, even added the perfect epilogue of Tibor performing his cello in a well-packed, glamorous stage. Virtuoso ending indeed.

      Thanks sooo much for sharing! I feel so in-the-know now!

      P.S. Be sure to read Never Let Me Go! I think it’s my second favorite of his titles.

  3. Thanks for the link, great article, wow that’s certainly a lifelong passion, can’t believe Churchill read a book a day, maybe novella’s were more in fashion back then.

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