Nocturnes is a recently published short stories collection by Kazuo Ishiguro, the Booker Prize winning author. Like a song cycle, the five stories are arranged with a common motif, alas, the loss of romance. They take place mainly in Europe, in some romantic settings, like Venice. The cycle begins and ends there. Music is the essential backdrop. It is the common thread linking the various ways the characters attempt to salvage lost love and revive relation stalemates.
Nocturnes is a light read. The theme could be dealt with seriously, but Ishiguro apparently tries a very different rendition. I had expected him to depict dreamscapes as he had done with his previous works, such as The Unconsoled, or While We Were Orphans, but I had not expected laugh-out-loud, hilarious scenes. Unlike the serious tone of The Remains of the Day, we see Ishiguro in a comedic styling. And, despite the meditative title, it’s not the classical music of Chopin that he has invoked, but Broadway, jazz, Irving Berlin, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, and yes, ABBA, just to name a few.
The quintet is composed of ‘Crooner’, ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, ‘Malvern Hills’, ‘Nocturne’, and ‘Cellists’. They touch on a basic question: Is a marriage finished with the loss of romance? Is revival even possible after lovers have fallen out of love?
‘Crooner’ is poignant in depicting a once hot, now aging American singer trying to offer a last bit of love to his wife before the inevitable end.
‘Malvern Hills’ has a similar story line, but carries additional sadness in that the dispassion extends to the couple’s only son.
‘Nocturne’ offers an interesting perspective on Beverly Hills’ image-driven quest of the rich and famous, and the up-and-coming. It offers some real fun and sardonic humor.
And ‘Cellists’, well, I really don’t know what to make of it, a story about a cellist who is not a cellist…
The most hilarious scene is in ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’. In the story, the main character has to cover up a mistake he’s made with the excuse that ‘the dog did it’. So, it’s canine method acting that he has to take up instantly. It is in such incredulous scenarios that the dreamscapes of Ishiguro emerge. But this time it is more like merging reality with comedy romp.
Considering the motif of this literary quintet, Ishiguro’s humorous and sometimes farcical way of dealing could well have offered his readers a fresh perspective on the subject matter. While Nocturnes may be a good pick for a beach read, I admit that I miss the poignant and pensive mood of The Remains of the Day. I wish too that Ishiguro would re-visit his previous style in his future work, for his writing can be most subtle and incisive, heart-wrenching without commotion. I missed such tonal expressions here, and the resonance they could have evoked.
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2009, 221 pages.
Photo credit: Jane Brown, www.list.co.uk/article/ 17435-kazuo-ishiguro/