Tuesday, 11 January 2011


Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors. His books take the reader on voyages of the imagination; not just to other times and places but into the thoughts, feelings and memories of the central characters. He explores the power of the past on individual motives and actions. The unreliability of memory and the ways in which time, emotion and personal perception act as a prism to distort recollections are recurring themes.

It always takes me some pages to truly get into an Ishiguro novel. His writing has its own particular cadence and the dialogue is often stylised and - to my mind - betrays his Japanese routes even in those novels which aren't set there. Once I get into them, however, I find they have they have their own peculiar momentum and are ultimately satisfying.

Nocturnes is different. It is a series of five bitter-sweet short stories with a musical theme. The characters are all at some form of decision point whether personal or professional and reflecting on how they arrived at their current situation as well as their next steps.

For all that the stories were, of themselves, nice stories, the book lacked the impact that his novels have. Partly this was because none of the stories had a killer punch in the way, say, Remains of the Day does, partly this was because the short story format doesn't lend itself to the author's style. Ishiguro's books are populated with characters with complex feelings and motives which are developed and revealed gradually - many of the protagonists in Nocturnes are as well but these are underdeveloped. As a result, this reader was left with a lack of empathy for them.

Nocturnes is a pleasant distraction which belies the skill and talent of the author. One or two of the stories hint at something bigger - a story which could cover the canvas of a novel. Indeed, two of the stories share a character and I wonder if these might have originally been part of a greater whole in Ishiguro's mind. As it is though all that is left is, at best, a series poignant vignettes some of which could well have been critical points in a larger work but none of which left a lasting impression.


P.S. I found it difficult to write this review and to criticise Ishiguro. For something more positive, please click here. For alternative views on this book, turn to Amazon or Goodreads.


Kyle said...

Andrew, criticizing people you like or admire, whether you know them or not, is always difficult if you are a good person. I also think it is also necessary for applying deeper thinking to any situation. I don't believe you were overly critical. What you say about his collection of short stories mirrors how I often feel about authors who have a collection of short stories come out, when I am used to reading their novels. It is your blog, your speaking space, just be honest, even even if your personal truth about their work bites a little.

oneexwidow said...

Thanks Kyle...

My difficulty was more because I've liked all his previous work, so I really expected more even though I had had my expectations considerably lowered by another friend who had been similarly disappointed!