NOCTURNES by Kazuo Ishiguro, Book Review: Mournful

Nocturnes by Kazuo IshiguroNocturnes Synopsis

Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

One of the most celebrated writers of our time gives us his first cycle of short fiction: five brilliantly etched, interconnected stories in which music is a vivid and essential character.

A once-popular singer, desperate to make a comeback, turning from the one certainty in his life… A man whose unerring taste in music is the only thing his closest friends value in him… A struggling singer-songwriter unwittingly involved in the failing marriage of a couple he’s only just met… A gifted, underappreciated jazz musician who lets himself believe that plastic surgery will help his career… A young cellist whose tutor promises to “unwrap” his talent….

Passion or necessity, or the often uneasy combination of the two, determines the place of music in each of these lives. And, in one way or another, music delivers each of them to a moment of reckoning: sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes just eluding their grasp.

An exploration of love, need, and the ineluctable force of the past, Nocturnes reveals these individuals to us with extraordinary precision and subtlety, and with the arresting psychological and emotional detail that has marked all of Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed works of fiction.

Genre: Audio, Romance, Drama, Literature

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Nocturnes is the first title I have read from author Kazuo Ishiguro and based on the synopsis I was expecting stories with real gravity. Perhaps my expectations had been set too high.

What I enjoyed most about this collection of stories was their varying links to music – the power of it, whether listening or performing. Its evocation of emotion and ability to transcend language barriers. The way we identify special moments in our lives with music and the special bond created with another when the appreciation of music is shared.

I found Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro melancholy and mournful with only rare glimpses of the uplifting and life-affirming.

Although I found the premise of the collection appealing, I found it hard and sometimes impossible to identify with the characters. I do not always need to ‘like’ characters to value their role in a story, but many of the characters in Nocturnes seemed shallow and lazy to me  – in characterisation, behaviour and attitudes.

I listened to Nocturnes in audio, thinking the musicality would translate best in this medium. The delivery of the audiobook narration was quite flat, but they undoubtedly did the best they could with the script they were given – each of the five stories in the collection being written in first person was a monotone format to begin with.

Perhaps Ishiguro’s goal was too ambitious, seeking to tap into the feelings of regret and loneliness brought on by nightfall in short story format. Powerful short stories have a clever twist or at the very least a ‘light bulb’ moment for the reader – generally speaking these did not pack enough punch for my taste.

While there were moments of haunting beauty and exquisite subtlety, in my opinion, Ishiguro consistently failed to capitalise on any tension built. I was ultimately left wanting more and disappointed by the experience. I think BlogCritics summed it up well in their review –  ‘the tales leave one feeling deflated’.

But if you are a fan of Ishiguro’s work, you may still want to give Nocturnes a try. While I am yet to read a rave review, there were reviewers who found more value in this work than I did.

BOOK RATING: The Story 2 /5 ; The Writing 3.5 / 5  –  Overall 2.75

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes is available from:

Amazon  |  Book Depository

About the Author, Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of six previous novels, including Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, which won the Booker Prize and was adapted into an award-winning film. Ishiguro’s work has been translated into forty languages. In 1995 he received an Order of the British Empire for service to literature, and in 1998 was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Other Reviews of Nocturnes: New York Times; The Observer; PopMatters; Tony’s Reading List; Fleur Fisher; Reading Matters