November 27, 2009

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

BOOK #: 78
REASONS READ: Take a Chance Challenge, October Readathon, 100 Shots of Short Challenge, A to Z Challenge, Japanese Lit 3 Challenge
PUBLISHER: Faber & Faber Limited, Bloomsbury House
GENRE: Fiction, Short Stories
FORMAT/PAGES: Paperback/221
RATING: 2.5 Stars

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.

MY FEELINGS ON THE BOOK: This is my first foray with Ishiguro and I had heard many great things about his other books, Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day. I had great hope for this book and it sounded like a unique set of short stories bound together by a common thread.

I was disappointed by this book. Each story had a very thin "plot" and were all pretty much the same "plot." In each there was the same character disguised with a different name and a few varying details, and sometimes a character appeared in more than one story. The themes of loneliness and romance were good ideas, but poorly executed.

  • The idea that connected all 5 stories that did capture my attention was that of reality versus dreams. For instance, in "Crooner", a man leaves a woman he loves for a younger version in order to revitalize his dying music career. Yet the man is still in love with the first woman and hires a young man to serenade her from a gondola. You can see that his choice was bittersweet at best, but mostly foolish. (I was left wondering why he would choose his career over true love. It wasn't explained or even hinted at.)
  • The title short story, "Nocturne", was the best out of the five stories. The wife from the first story, "Crooner", makes another appearance, this time after cosmetic surgery. Another musician is forced into cosmetic surgery himself and they forge a bond, albeit a loose and fragile bond. I felt this story drew the most empathy from me, even though all of the stories bittersweet and tragic circumstances were supposed to.
  • Out of five stories, not one had a character learn a lesson from his mistaken choices, nor was one ever offered to them to learn via another character. I can take tragic circumstances in a book, but this was more like 241 pages of pity party. I can only take so much.
  • The prose was not nearly as sophisticated or captivating as I had imagined Ishiguro's would be. Perhaps his style does not lend well to short stories, perhaps it was simply not one of his better books. It is hard to say since I had not read any of his work prior to this one.
  • A couple of the stories seemed like they just ended. In my opinion, the stories did not have the classic build up, climax, and after thoughts and left me thinking, "Is that it?" after each one. Not good.

If you have read and reviewed Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro, please leave a comment and I will add your review to this post!


  1. The first book I read by Ishiguro was The Unconsoled, and I hated it. I didn't understand why he was considered such a great writer. This year I decided to give him another chance with Never Let Me Go. At first, I wasn't sure. I think I gave it 3 stars when I reviewed it. Over time, though, it has really stuck with me and I've come to appreciate it more. I have a feeling he's a very on-off author.

  2. I'm sorry that this wasn't a hit for you. I feel like a lot of short stories rub me the wrong way. They don't build up the way I like them to, leaving me feeling uneasy about them. Maybe that's the main problem here?

  3. Meghan from Medieval Bookworm reviewed this book a few weeks ago. I think she was pretty disappointed in it, too. The story about the cellist is the only one that really sounds interesting to me.

  4. Don't give up on Ishiguro yet! If you try Never Let Me Go, and Remains of the Day and still don't like him, then ok. But those two books are just amazing.

    I read this earlier this year (and reviewed it here. I liked it better than you, but can certainly understand your fair criticisms.

  5. I really want to try some of Ishiguro's work, but I don't think I'll start with this one, since I haven't learned to appreciate short stories yet.

  6. Thanks for the balanced review. I would like to explore this author's work, but I won't start with this one.

  7. I remember reading another review about "Remains of the Day" and it was kind of along the same lines. I don't think this author is for me.


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