Summary and book reviews of Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

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

Book Summary

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.

Excerpt
Nocturnes

The morning I spotted Tony Gardner sitting among the tourists, spring was just arriving here in Venice. We’d completed our first full week outside in the piazza — a relief, let me tell you, after all those stuffy hours performing from the back of the cafe, getting in the way of customers wanting to use the staircase. There was quite a breeze that morning, and our brand-new marquee was flapping all around us, but we were all feeling a little bit brighter and fresher, and I guess it showed in our music.

But here I am talking like I’m a regular band member. Actually, I’m one of the ‘gypsies’, as the other musicians call us, one of the guys who move around the piazza, helping out whichever of the three cafe orchestras needs us. Mostly I play here at the Caffè Lavena, but on a busy afternoon, I might do a set with the Quadri boys, go over to the Florian, then back across the square to the Lavena. I get on fine with them all — and ...

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Like many of Kazuo Ishiguro's widely-acclaimed novels, Nocturnes charts the nature of shifting relationships, the passage of time, real and perceived failures, the consequences of deferred dreams, feelings of estrangement, and the quiet but destructive erosion that occurs when truth is denied for too long, yet it does so with more attenuated gestures and less reflection... Fans of his novels may enjoy the change of pace offered by this debut, but newer readers may prefer to begin with his previous works, which better exemplify his talents.   (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).

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Media Reviews
New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

Unfortunately for the reader, these stories — which, curiously, won rave reviews in Britain — do not share the exquisite narrative command, the carefully modulated irony or the elliptical subtlety of Mr. Ishiguro’s strongest works like Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. Instead they read like heavy-handed O. Henry-esque exercises; they are psychologically obtuse, clumsily plotted and implausibly contrived.

New York Times - Christopher Hitchens

He seemed to me, in A Pale View of Hills and The Remains of the Day, to have intuited something subtle and miniature and layered, in what I read as a latent analogy between English and Japanese society. In The Unconsoled, which was heavier going, he at least showed how musical commitments could be, as one might say, a cause of  'discord.' Never Let Me Go was so orchestrated as to slowly gather pace and rhythm from its varied sections. But these five too-easy pieces are neither absorbingly serious nor engagingly frivolous: a real problem with a musical set, and a disaster, if only in a minor key, when it’s a question of prose.

Publishers Weekly

The stories are superbly crafted, though they lack the gravity of Ishiguro's longer works, which may leave readers anticipating a crescendo that never hits.

Kirkus Reviews

Like sophisticated literary mood music, this book lingers in the memory, ringing true in theme and metaphor even when lacking plausibility.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Once again Ishiguro does something different; recommended for anyone who loves thoughtful writing.

Booklist

Starred Review. Each tale of musicians, muses, and users is funny and incisive; each is a fable about the dream of mastery and the nightmare of pragmatism; and each dramatic story line delivers arresting psychological transformations.

The Times (UK)

By now it is clear that this exquisite stylist is serious in his pursuit of a minimal – perhaps even universal – mode of expression for the emotional experiences that define our lives as human. Nocturnes is a set of poised and playful reflections on the falling away of sentiment ... in their deceptively simple exploration of love and loss, they build on the achievement of Never Let Me Go.

Sunday Telegraph (UK)

It is hardly surprising that a writer as resonant, and as emotionally pitch-perfect, as Kazuo Ishiguro should be so keen on music ... [The title story's] set-up is so beautifully engineered that it left me simultaneously gasping in admiration and shaking with laughter.

Evening Standard (UK)

These stories come up on you quietly, in Ishiguro's strangely weightless style [and] haunt you for days ... A nocturne is a piece of music inspired by, or evocative of, the night ...These little pieces could only be the work of a great composer.

The Observer - Tom Fleming (UK)

The bittersweet memories that such music evokes make it suited to Ishiguro's style, but the air of stillness and regret, and the sense of missed opportunities, are tempered now and then by moments of farce or surrealism. Each of these stories is heartbreaking in its own way, but some have moments of great comedy, and they all require a level of attention that, typically, Ishiguro's writing rewards.

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Beyond the Book

Kazuo Ishiguro
Born in Nagasaki, Japan on November 8, 1954, Kazuo Ishiguro moved to Britain in 1960 at the age of five when his father began research at the National Institute of Oceanography. His family had not expected to stay, but ended up making Britain their home. He was educated at a grammar school for boys in Surrey, and later read English and Philosophy at the University of Kent, Canterbury, during which time he was also employed as a community worker in Glasgow (1976). After graduating, he worked as a residential social worker in London and studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where he met his early mentor, Angela Carter.

Ishiguro is the author of three stories published in Introductions 7: Stories by ...

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