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Reading Kazuo Ishiguro: “Nocturnes”

August reading: “Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Music Press Asia Reading of the Month Kazuo Ishiguro

Nobel prize winner and one of the most celebrated Japanese writers of our time, Kazuo Ishiguro gives us his first cycle of short fiction: five brilliantly depicted, interconnected dramas in which music is a vivid character that drives the essential expressions via the first person.

Why nightfall? While most of the stories take place mainly at night, Kazuo Ishiguro’s intention may have been metaphorical in mind: the realization of the darkness of age, and the unrealised hopes of youth, is antithesis against those whose desires still radiantly ablaze — the naivete and foolishness, the not-yet disillusioned.

Exploring ideas of love, music and the passing of time, the book captures human relationships through the subtle psychological and emotional detail with great precision. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the rendezvous at an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the character revealed in the book range from faded stars to young dreamers to cafe musicians, all with a moment of reckoning and surprise awaiting at the end.

The narrator of the first story, “Crooner”, is a Polish guitarist who entertains the crowd in Venice’s Piazza San Marco and one day spots a Tony Gardner, a Tony Bennett mould who is also an ageing American showman. Being a celebrity of the past, he strikes a proposition to perform a romantic, moonlit serenade as a treat to his wife, Lindy.

In the second story “Come Rain or Come Shine”, Ishiguro focuses on the ludicrous aspects of human confrontation. The unambitious narrator, having discovered and read a friend’s diary, is also a Broadway fan with the most macabre and amusing personality. He offers no solace to friends who knows him as a music junkie devoid of self-respect other than only his farcical opinions about music.

Like many of his previous novel, Ishiguro finds ease of the prose, being smoothly ambiguous, manages to lull the reader into a false sense of security. While narratives may seem gentle at the beginning, would gradually morph melancholy into each story. Obviously also on the theme of the East-West divide when Tony asks Janeck, “How would you understand, my friend, coming from where you do?”

Original title Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
First/Original edition Paperback (2009) by Faber & Faber
Edition Language English
Literary Awards James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee for fiction (2009), Premio Tomasi di Pampedusa (2009)

While we may all recognise the central theme that continue to resonate in the present since “The Remains of the Day”, there are still little surprises that crackle with hope: “Maybe Lindy’s right,” thinks the saxophonist. “Maybe, like she says, I need some perspective, and life really is much bigger than loving a person. Maybe this really is a turning point for me, and the big league’s waiting.”

Nevertheless this is a beautiful, crackerjack book about the journey of life and the dips and surging rhythms that make its experience worthwhile. I very much embrace the “…very tender high B-flat” of living that represents colours where yearning and grief that you not necessarily have savoured before. And while dignity, success and eternal devotion may avoid Ishiguro’s characters, they will always have moments of great comedy and dignifies the condition of human being.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel “Klara and the Sun” is now available for purchase.

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