Saturday, 28 March 2020

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro Review

A crooner and his wife take a sad holiday together; an old friend is drafted in to help out a failing marriage – with hilarious results; a budding songwriter meets an elderly married pair of Swiss musicians on holiday in the English countryside; an unsuccessful musician resorts to plastic surgery in a desperate bid for fame; a young cellist meets an older woman who claims to be a virtuoso cellist herself – except she can’t play the instrument! These are the five stories that make up Kazuo Ishiguro’s collection, Nocturnes.

And it’s not bad. I recently read and adored Come Rain or Come Shine from the new Faber Stories range which spurred me on to check out this book, where it was originally published, hoping (naively) that the others would all be as brilliant. Alas, they’re not – Come Rain or Come Shine is still the best of the bunch.

In that story, a man finds himself drawn into the troubled marriage of two old university friends with the expectation that he somehow fix things – except he manages to turn the situation into a farce! It’s such an unexpectedly funny and entertaining story from the normally rather reserved Ishiguro – I’d recommend just reading this story over any of the others.

Because you’re not really missing much there! Not that they’re bad – they’re well-written with enough happening to more or less hold the attention – but they’re not anywhere near as compelling as Come Rain or Come Shine.

Crooner is more like the maudlin Ishiguro I’m familiar with and it’s kinda sweet but also quite dull. I’ve no idea what the point of Malvern Hills and Cellists were – the dialogue is strong, some of the imagery lingers but they’re quite unmemorable stories. Nocturne was the only other somewhat fun story. The Crooner’s wife from the first story, Lindy Gardner, is having plastic surgery done and is convalescing in the same LA hotel as the musician who’s gotten work done too. They talk about who “deserves” success in the entertainment business and get into some night-time shenanigans during the preparations of an awards ceremony.

I’m not totally sure why the subtitle emphasises “music and nightfall” as the links to both seem quite tenuous and unremarkable. It could just as easily reference relationships/marriages, and American women in particular, given the focus on them!

None of the stories in Nocturnes are that bad but if it weren’t for the standout Come Rain or Come Shine this collection wouldn’t be worth picking up. I recommend checking it out for that story alone or get the recent Faber Stories edition of it instead.

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