Sunday, March 25, 2012
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories
The short story is the art of the moment. From author to author, they take dozens of different forms, covering such varying topics as the slow decay of a marriage (like "Shiloh") to the grisly murder of a man (like "The Cask of Amontillado"). Kazuo Ishiguro, who has written such moving and intimate novels as The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, ventures into the world of the short story with his distinct style. These stories are inconclusive and evocative, so simple that we immediately know that there is something deep beneath their quiet surfaces.
As stated on the cover, the five stories have two common themes-- music and nightfall, both of which are covered in five very different ways. From the first story, "Crooner," we know that something is terribly sad and wrong with the characters, despite outward appearances. The main character, a guitarist named Janeck, meets his mother's hero, Tony Gardner, by pure chance in a cafe in Venice. However, what should be a simple meeting with an aging musician quickly becomes an uncomfortably intimate portrayal of a marriage about to crumble. Ishiguro's writing unblushingly uncovers the deepest parts of people, making even minor characters unmistakably real and human.
Nocturnes quietly, simply destroys the concept that you need a novel to fully explore a character. From the first moments of one of the stories, we know exactly who that character is, and what is to come only further elaborates on that person we saw so clearly from the first words. Each story, told in first person, pulls us inside the minds of the tellers, seeing the world as it happens to them, not as it is or as it should be. To a degree, we are watching the shadows of the tale play out, but to another degree we are so invested in each one that it's over too soon.
The title story, which is actually the fourth in the book, is exactly the culmination of the whole point. Steve, an unappreciated saxophonist, is in the middle of recovery from plastic surgery when a character from the first story reappears: Lindy Gardner is his neighbor. We met Lindy before through the eyes of Janeck, and now she reappears some time later, recovering from the divorce as well as her plastic surgery. She makes friends with Steve, likely from boredom, and he learns far more about her character than he expected.
Throughout the narrative, Lindy and Steve never see each others' faces, which leads us to wonder: how much does what we look like affect who we are? Lindy is a mystery from the beginning, an unpredictable conundrum around whom the whole story swirls. She's a child and an old woman, a young soul caught in an old world. She's been hurt and she hurts. Through her, Ishiguro paints a painfully true picture of the human condition: no matter how horrible the things that happen to us, we still do them to one another.
Nocturnes paints moments of stillness caught in the middle of a wild world, a deep breath before diving back under. Each character is on vacation, taking stock of their lives before a major change will either bring fortune or disaster. They become utterly themselves, naked and stark before the future and the past. Music has brought them thus far, and night brings the sudden change.
Ishiguro's form is impeccable as always, casual and philosophical all at once, presenting all sides of the narrator's mind through simple, necessary thoughts and actions. His music choices are varied in each story, but focused and to the point as well-- folk, rock and roll, contemporary, jazz, and classical are all represented, and the references to bands and songs are well placed in the context of each story.
At just 221 pages, Nocturnes is a short read and feels like it. Each story cuts off suddenly, but not inappropriately-- the tale is told, but there is still a sense of incompleteness that is a part of each one. The effect is wonderfully tantalizing, like a light that only comes halfway on.
This collection is three years old now, so it should be available at your local library, but you can also find it on the Kindle store for $11.99 or order it from Barnes and Noble for $5.98, which is a lot better than its list price of $25.00. So get your hands on it and devote a couple of hours to this gorgeous, thought-provoking book.