Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Year: 2009
In a sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the 'hush-hush floor' of an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers to cafe musicians to faded stars, all of them at some moment of reckoning. Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme: the struggle to keep alive a sense of life's romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.
I hesitated to pick up this book because I didn’t have good experience with Ishiguro’s writing. While I like the idea and theme surrounding Never Let Me Go, I didn’t particularly like the book. I also found An Artist of The Floating World boring I even fell asleep while reading that book. So you see why I was afraid that I won’t like this book. But that was before I come to understand Ishiguro’s writing style. Since Nocturnes is a collection of short stories, I had the time to learn about his writing and the result? I came to like it more than before.
Nocturnes is a collection of five short stories revolving around music. The first story, Crooner, is about a guitar player who met a famous singer named Tony Gardner that’s been influential to his life. After chatting for a while, Toni asked a favor from the main to accompany him serenading from a gondola to surprise his wife. It might sound romantic and cheesy, but there’s more to it. The truth behind the romantic gesture is kind of sad.
Tony’s wife reappears in another short story called Nocturne. She befriends an up-and-coming saxophonist while they are recovering from plastic surgery. Their friendship leads to an unexpected nocturnal adventure through the hallway and ballroom of the hotel they are staying.
Come Rain or Come Shine tells a story about Raymond who visits his friends, Charlie and Emily. Raymond shares the same fascination to music with Emily. They both used to discuss about music back in college. When visiting Charlie and Emily, he learns that the couple is going through a rough patch. He later finds out that the reason he was invited is to smooth things out between Charlie and Emily; by not talking about music with Emily while Charlie is out in Frankfurt for a business meeting. It’s a bit difficult for Ray as music is the one thing both Emily and him are passionate about. The situation then kind of take a strange turn and quite hilarious.
Other short stories still revolve around musicians. In Malvern Hills, we meet a guitarist who decided to stay in his sister’s place on the countryside to write new materials for his breakthrough in his music career. While in Cellists we have a cellist who meets an American woman claiming to be a virtuoso and offers to mentor him.
Reading this book, you can tell how much Ishiguro loves music. Almost all of the characters in this book are musicians and they all kind of reflect on their past. These stories highlight the importance of music in the characters’ lives. Though not all of the stories are centered on the narrator (in Cellist the narrator tells a story about his friend who’s a cellist he met about seven years before), all of them are told in first person. So it feels personal. Like someone you met is telling you his personal experience. Since these stories are coming from ‘personal experiences’, you won’t find satisfying resolutions in them. You won’t know who ends up with whom or whether he would be successful or not; which probably will be a letdown for some readers. These stories are just a chapter of the characters’ lives that we get to peek at.
The writing is simple and easy to understand. Though this book didn’t make me really happy or sad, it has a calming effect on me. All of the stories in this book have some melancholy and soothing tone. The setting of these stories also affirms that. Some people might find it boring which is why I’m warning you about it here. So you’ll know what to expect. I believe to enjoy this book you have to be in a particular ‘mood’. If you just want to relax and not looking for a fast paced read, Nocturnes might be the perfect book for you.