Reading guide for Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Nocturnes

Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Nocturnes
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2009,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2010,
    240 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About this Guide

"In both craft and substance Nocturnes reveals a master at work." —The Seattle Times

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Nocturnes, the lovely, elegiac collection of stories by Booker Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro.

About This Book


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.

Here is a fragile, once famous singer, turning his back on the one thing he loves; a music junky with little else to offer his friends but opinion; a songwriter who inadvertently breaks up a marriage; a jazz musician who thinks the answer to his career lies in changing his physical appearance; and a young cellist whose tutor has devised a remarkable way to foster 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 an epiphany: sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes 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.


Reader's Guide


1. General Questions:
• In each story, at least one character is deluding him- or herself. Who is the worst offender? How does Ishiguro signal this to the reader?
• How does Ishiguro use humor, even farce, to illuminate his characters' psyches?
Webster defines nocturne as "a work of art dealing with evening or night; especially: a dreamy pensive composition for the piano." How does each story qualify as a nocturne? How does Ishiguro use night as a metaphor?

2. "Crooner":
• How would you describe Tony and Lindy's relationship? How do you think Lindy would describe it?

3. "Come Rain or Come Shine":
• On page 38, Ray says, "We were especially pleased when we found a recording—like Ray Charles singing ‘Come Rain or Come Shine'—where the words themselves were happy, but the interpretation was pure heartbreak." What does this tell us about Ray and Emily? How does it come into play later in the story?

• What does Ray's trashing of the apartment symbolize? How does Sarah Vaughan smooth things over?

4. "Malvern Hills":
• "I quickly discovered that breakfast at the cafe was a nightmare, with customers wanting eggs done this way, toast like that, everything getting overcooked. So I made a point of never appearing until around eleven" (page 93). What does this tell us about the narrator? Who's doing whom a favor here?

• Sonja says to the narrator on page 122, "As it is, life will bring enough disappointments. If on top, you have such dreams as this . . .  But I should not say these things. I am not a good example to you. Besides, I can see you are much more like Tilo." What do you think the narrator learns from his encounters with Sonja and Tilo? Do you imagine he'll press on with his music?

5. "Nocturne"
• Why do you think Ishiguro chose to reintroduce Lindy Gardner? How does reading this story change your understanding of "Crooner"?
• "If there was one figure who epitomised for me everything that was shallow and sickening about the world, it was Lindy Gardner: a person with negligible talent . . . who's managed all the same to become famous" (page 137). In what ways is this idea connected to the other stories in the collection? How much does talent matter in Ishiguro's world?
• How does being wrapped in bandages and hidden away from the world affect Steve and Lindy's behavior? Do you think things might have gone differently if their faces were exposed?

6. "Cellists"
• Eloise says, "You have to understand, I am a virtuoso. But I'm one who's yet to be unwrapped" (page 212). Why is she convinced of this? Do you believe she's a virtuoso? Does Tibor?
• What similarities can you find among Eloise, Lindy, and Sonja? Does Emily fit into this vein, too?


Suggested Reading
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett;
Disturbance of the Inner Ear by Joyce Hackett;
The Awakening by Kate Chopin;
An Equal Music
by Vikram Seth;
Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories by Joan Silber;
Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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