Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro – ‘Five Stories of Music and Nightfall’ (2009 Faber and Faber)
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.
I like short story collections; for a journey, or for when I have to wait for an appointment or something. It means I can usually fit the whole narrative arc in before I’m called, or arrive, or whatever.
This isn’t my first experience of Ishiguro in the short story format. I read one called ‘A Family Supper’ which is both subtle and explosive and so so compelling. It’s also one of the only stories I have read by him that is set in his native country of Japan.
Nocturnes has multiple settings. It also presents five different stories self contained within themselves but reaching out and connecting in the way they are similarly themed and toned. (Is ‘toned’ a word?)
What did I like?
- ‘Crooner’ – The first story in the collection. But easily my favourite. Set in Venice, this was an instant ‘win’ for me. Ishiguro sets the scene with the kind of control over language that I envy.
- Dialogue – This applies as a whole – the use of dialogue is perfect. Understated, subtle, it works on more than one level.. if that makes sense.. ?
- Setting – In ‘Malvern Hills’ there was something really compelling about how parts of England were described.
What didn’t work for me?
- Plain – Sometimes Ishiguro’s simple, straightforward style in these stories had me struggling to keep my concentration. It often works FOR the stories, in that it’s saying more than you see on the surface. But sometimes it left it feeling too empty.
- Nocturne – The title piece didn’t grab me at all. Not in the same way the other stories did. Perhaps I had too high expectations for it, but it fell flat for me.
A really good collection. As a writer I feel like I have learnt a lot from reading and taking note from looking at ‘how’ Ishiguro does it.
Nocturnes deserves a solid 4/5. Easily.