Book Review: Nocturnes

I picked up Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro entirely on a whim. I liked the look of the cover, which had an unclear image of a girl dancing. It was in yellow and blue, and fairly evocative.

Additionally, I happened to be at a wholesale book exhibition, where books were organised according to genre – and that’s it. This book was in the generic fiction section along with thousands of others. As I was browsing through, a girl exclaimed loudly from behind me, pointing out the book in my basket to her companion. “Where did you find that?!” she demanded of me. I was rather bemused by this extreme reaction to a book in the middle of thousands of other books. “From the fiction section,” I said, waving vaguely at the general area in which I had found it. She took off like a bullet, leaving her friend to mutter apologetically, and say that it was unusual to find his work in a place like this.

Suffice it to say, if I wasn’t 100% convinced about buying the book before that incident, I was totally sold after it. Any book that can turn what seemed like a normal person into a lunatic was worth one read at least. [There were classics also, in their own section, incidentally, and those had some real beauts.]

I must say, I am supremely glad I bought the book. Because it was an excellent story, and led me elevate Mr. Ishiguro to the ranks of one of my favourite authors.

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro

Story: The books is divided into 5 short stories. The common threads between them are, at least on the surface, music and love. But there is a definite undercurrent of melancholy to them all. Each of the practitioners are musically gifted, and the love is in various stages of being lost. Ultimately, the stories appear to be plucked out of each character’s life in an anecdotal style, and put forward as an experience that changed them to some degree.

In trademark Ishiguro style, none of the stories have definitive endings. They seem to stop with the salient points of the anecdote themselves, and giving the distinct impression that the lives in the stories carry on, and other things happen to them which are not part of the scope of these particular stories. [I know exactly how idiotic this sounds, but it is an ephemeral sort of quality that exists in all the author’s writing.]

Writing: The writing is exquisite. The words are simple, as are the sentences. What shines through, leaving the words behind on the page, is the story. They weave an illusory realm where the reader becomes less of a reader and more of a viewer. It is powerful writing to have such a visual impact. Again the ephemeral quality abounds, and although the reader ‘sees’, they don’t see clearly. The characters are not bounded by the words, nor by the situations. They are incomplete depictions, because people are not meant to fit into definitions. [Again, I know how crazy this sounds. I just have no other way to describe it.]

Characters: Overwhelmingly, the principal characters are caught up in events beyond their control. They seem to be spectators in situations that are centred around them. There is the cellist who is tutored by a mysterious lady, and she calls the shots of that relationship. There is the man whose friend wants him to stay over for his unlikeability and lack of direction in life, whereas the friend’s wife thinks his only value lies in his exquisite musical taste. And three other stories along the same broad strokes. Each character is caught in a maelstrom of emotion, predominantly of confusion, at the unfolding of these events. Understandably so.

Pace: Short stories necessitate rapid momentum. The stories are not rushed, but they do not linger over details. There is no comfortable pause in narrative, where the reader is allowed to flit across without investment. You want a break while reading this book? Stop between the stories. There’s your break.

Conclusion: The tone of this book is infectious. I felt a deep melancholy after reading it, and in someone with a greater tendency to be depressed, it might prove to be a trigger. Having said that, with an abundance of caution, I would wholeheartedly recommend the book to those who enjoy a touch of unreality in their literature. Perhaps that’s my takeaway, and someone else could have had an entirely different experience. Another one of the charms of the book.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩

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