Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Wow! That first short story was fantastic! Too bad the rest of this story-cycle collection of five didn't maintain that same high standard in my first foray in reading Kazuo Ishiguro's work.
In case you're interested, here is Wikipedia's synopsis of each story:
"Crooner" - Set in Venice, a fading American singer co-opts a Polish cafe musician into accompanying him while he serenades his wife (whose relationship is disintegrating) from a gondola.
"Come Rain or Come Shine" - In London, an expatriate EFL teacher is invited to the home of a couple whom he knew whilst at university. However the couple's tensions affect the visitor, leading to a rather awkward situation.
"Malvern Hills" - A young guitarist flees London and lack of success in the rock world to the Malvern countryside cafe owned by his sister and brother-in-law. Whilst there he encounters Swiss tourists whose behavior causes him to reflect on his own situation.
"Nocturne" - A saxophonist recuperating after plastic surgery at a Beverly Hills hotel becomes involved with a wealthy American woman (the now ex-wife of the crooner in the first story) and ends up in a rather bizarre confrontation on stage of the hotel (involving an award statuette and a cooked turkey).
"Cellists" - A Hungarian cellist falls under the spell of a fellow cellist, an apparently virtuosic American older woman, who tutors him. He later realizes that she cannot play the cello as she was so convinced of her own musical genius, no teacher ever seemed equal to it, and so rather than tarnish her gift with imperfection, she chose never to realize it at all.
I LOVED "Crooner"! It was clear from the start that Ishiguro excels at setting a scene and quickly building fairly full-formed characters, at least as full as is needed for a short. He handles mood like it's putty in the hands of an accomplished sculptor.
Some reviewer for a UK paper, I think it was The Guardian or something, said "Nocturne" was the funniest story. What the heck was this person thinking? "Nocturne" had a brief moment of humor, but it was otherwise long and lame. "Come Rain or Come Shine" was the one I found funniest. Its main character is like someone Ricky Gervias would've created and is almost as put-upon as Bertie Wooster. In fact, this particular story is very Wodehousian and quintessentially British in its dry humor.
"Malvern Hills" and "Cellists" are pretty enough in their imagery and sadness, but they don't quite come up to the mark of "Crooner".
All in all, this wasn't the best introduction to a new writer for this particular reader, but its quantity of quality was enough for me to seek out another book by Kazuo Ishiguro for a second chance.
Starting out as great as it did, after the story story I was ready to give Nocturnes 5 stars. Reading a couple more, I felt like this was a solid 4 stars. Struggling through the forth story dropped the overall score down to 3. Finishing off the book with a story that struggled to keep my attention didn't improve my opinion enough to raise it up to 4, so I'll call it 3.5 stars.
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