Here are five uninspired stories very loosely connected via music. In each a young, unsophisticated and unmarried man who either plays music or enjoys music, becomes either involved with an older couple or an older woman and thus observes the vicissitudes of marriage. It’s a slightly jaded book by an aging author who is losing that “zang.” After the third story my interest waned significantly. The title story, “Nocturne”, about two plastic surgery patients recuperating on a secluded floor in a fancy hotel I found to be totally vacuous. It’s long and it is not needed. Endless dialogue. Ishiguro likely wrote this peice first, and realizing it’s lack of “novel potential” built four other stories around it. I promise you that’s what happened.
An outstanding novelist does not a great short story writer make.
This should be a “2.5” because the stories are of such flawed, annoying characters who never self-affirm their lives, but the fact is that the writing is clear and extradordinary and all have to do with how people place music in their lives. The first story says a lot about love and ambition, arguably the strongest story here. The beginning of “Malvern Hills” also struck a chord within me (pun intended) as I agree with the opening sentiments of the young singer-songwriter trying to make it around other egotistical musicians. Been there, my friend, been there. But why all the relationship fluff and marriage issues? Wasn’t a big opportunity missed here to really show how lots of different music affects lots of different people? Where’s the variety?
There’s a unity in “Nocturnes”, but the them are only so-so, layed out through beautiful writing — as always. If you happen to be in a library and want to read award-winning writing, sit down for twenty minutes and read either “Crooner” or “Malvern Hills” in this short story collection by Kazuo Ishiguro. If you’d like to read something amazing by him though, read “The Remains of the Day” or “Never Let me Go”, both (4/5) at least. As a side note, I recently finished his first novel, the very short “A Pale View of Hills”, and while atmoshperic and haunting, it raises way too many questions and is his weakest work. (2/5).
F.Y.I. — I’ve read “Never Let Me Go” twice and I’ve seen the movie adaptation with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan. It’s well done, (4/5), but not as fulfilling as the book. If you’re not a big reader, check out the movie first and I hope it fires up your interest!
I’m beginning to read another Ishiguro novel right now, “When We Were Orphans“. More on that, I’m sure, later.