Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

When I heard about this book, I thought of my ageing CD of Chopin’s Nocturnes with its scratched plastic cover and fading image of a lamplit window framed by black night. Would these short stories have the delicate quality of Chopin’s piano music? Any echoes of 19th century romanticism- the waltz, thin waists, in lace? Music is indeed one theme of these five stories, which are set in the present, though often concerned with a nostalgia for the past, whether it be a love of American Broadway songs or a desire to recapture the heady freshness of youth. The characters are musicians or music lovers and the narratives revolve around interpretations of success, in musical careers and elsewhere in life- and what people are prepared to do to achieve this. The stories are played out in Europe and the States, which makes for interesting cultural comparisons as well as hilarious situations, when characters post op at the beauty farm spend the night rushing around a hotel in bandages avoiding arrest. Ishiguro’s skilful use of the narrative voice both draws us in to the narrator’s standpoint and story and then begins to undermine it, so that we are left uncertain about whether we actually like the character we had been in cahoots with only pages before. My favourite story is ‘Crooner’ which involves an encounter between a young Eastern European musician and a middle aged American couple on St. Mark’s Square in Venice. A night time spin on a gondolier to serenade a loved one promises romance -to say more would be to give away the plot- suffice it to say that, as in all good short stories, the unexpected creeps in. So the stories are also exploring the possibilities of love in middle age in a consumer capitalist society and Ishiguro tells them with humour, wit and irony. I enjoyed this collection but think it speaks more to the oldsters amongst us.

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