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Capturing the magic of one art form through the prism of another is a tricky business. In his seventh book, Kazuo Ishiguro attempts just that, building to a crescendo throughout "Five Stories of Music and Nightfall". Of course, what makes a great musical number, a piece that transcends fashion, is its peculiarity, its uniqueness.
It's the draw and impact of this nebulous quality that Ishiguro manages to convey with wit and heart in these tales. The narrator of the first story, "Crooner", is Janeck, a Polish guitarist entertaining the tourists in Venice's Piazza San Marco one crisp spring morning. Once famous, Tony is now in the twilight of his career and holidaying with his wife Lindy. The singer has a peculiar proposition for Janeck: to accompany him as he treats Lindy to a moonlit serenade.
However, the gig takes an unforeseen turn to become an elegiac declaration of love. In a later story, "Nocturne", a now-divorced Lindy befriends an aspiring saxophonist while they endure a post-plastic surgery convalescence in a luxury hotel. The ballad of Tony and Lindy Gardner echoes through this book like a bittersweet refrain, full of the sadness of two lovers whose bond is broken by the brute strength of market forces. In other stories, Ishiguro focuses on the more farcical aspects of human encounters.
In "Come Rain or Come Shine", a Broadway fan tries to cover up having read and crumpled a friend's diary by getting down on all fours and ransacking her flat like a dog. With its macabre and amusing delivery, this surprisingly deft shift reminded me of Roald Dahl at his Tales of the Unexpected best. As with his previous fiction, Ishiguro uses a genre to his own ends.
Nocturnes pays no more than peppercorn rent to the traditional story cycle in the same way that When We Were Orphans was barely a detective yarn.
The ease of the prose, with its misleading smoothness, lulls the reader into a false sense of security. Seemingly gentle narratives of melancholia morph to take into account other themes.
Not least the East-West divide. Ishiguro's band of characters struggle with the intractable course of life. The ramifications of all those turnings and decisions continue to resonate in their present. Of course, this was the central theme of The Remains of the Day, yet here those intersections occasionally prove to be a balm. There are moments that crackle with possibilities. Maybe this really is a turning point for me, and the big league's waiting. Ultimately this is a lovely, clever book about the passage of time and the soaring notes that make its journey worthwhile: "I rise up in intervals you'd never believe possible and then hold that sweet, very tender high B-flat.
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Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro: review
Although Kazuo Ishiguro has spent much of his career writing about small events in the lives of modest people, there is nothing modest about his accomplishments. His immaculate prose is unassuming to the point of near-invisibility, like a lake whose still surface belies the turbulent currents beneath. And he has mastered the art of creating characters whose statements mean more than they say. Why nightfall, though? The opening story takes place largely at night, and so do parts of the others. But the nightfall Ishiguro has in mind is more metaphorical: the encroachment of the darkness of age, and the dimming of the hopes of youth, set in counterpoint against those whose aspirations still burn brightly -- the young, the foolish, the not-yet-disillusioned. In their strivings after success, the characters in these stories accept multiple indignities, sometimes compromising their very identities.
‘Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall’ by Kazuo Ishiguro
Traditionally such nocturnal sentiments include regret, chagrin, melancholy, perhaps a dash of ennui — the pastel twilight tones at the lighter end of the spectrum that darken to gloom, rage and black despair. In his new volume of short fiction, subtitled Five Stories of Music and Nightfall , Kazuo Ishiguro, himself a musician he is a guitarist and former chorister , sets himself the challenge of capturing in language the evanescent qualities of music and dusk. His records were an escape from the grim privations of communism. For the sake of her memory, Janeck decides that he must speak to Gardner.
Heartbreak in five movements
For those of us fated to lead smaller and less portentous existences, it is still the gathering shade of evening that very often gives rise to our most intense, and sometimes necessarily our most melancholy, moments of reflection and retrospect. A whole musical repertoire has been consecrated to one of my favorite words the crepuscular. It has been proposed that Debussy was influenced by the nightfall paintings of James McNeill Whistler, and it would certainly be apt for the purposes of this article if that turned out to be true. So Kazuo Ishiguro has quite a tradition on which to draw in these five tales of human emotion in the waning hours of light. This is all well known to the cafe proprietors of Venice — the location of the first and last of these stories — who make sure to employ bands or orchestras that never cease to perform.