Kazuo Ishiguro achieved worldwide fame and recognition upon publication of his Booker prize winning novel, The Remains of the Day which was later made into an award-winning movie starring Anthony Hopkins.
Since The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro has struggled, somewhat, to produce a book that comes close to the appeal and genius of his most successful work. Never Let Me Go, his last full-length work didn’t quite measure up and so the publication of the 221-page Nocturnes (Faber and Faber, 2009), a collection of five unconnected short stories of varying lengths but all of which explore or rather revolve around music and nightfall provoked eager anticipation in the literary world.
The book turns out not so much an exploration of music, musicians and the world of music as in Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music but rather an allusion to the place of music and its effect on our human/interpersonal relationships.
Nightfall, on the other hand is a metaphor not just for the fading of the light but for decline and the descent into decrepitude. In this sense, Nocturnes is thus an exploration of how our experiences shape us and how we relate to those experiences and attendant memories in our twilight years. It also focuses on how we define success or failure in both our personal and public lives.
In the Crooner, after Mr Gardner, the fading American star has serenaded his wife from a gondola, he tells the guitarist he has contracted to assist him that he and his wife are separating even though they still love each other. When asked why two people who still love each other should go their separate ways Mr. Gardner says “Look at the other guys, the guys who came back successfully… Every single one of them, they’ve remarried. Twice, sometimes thrice. Every one of them, young wives on their arms. Me and Lindy are getting to be a laughingstock….She needs to get out now, while she has time. Time to find love again, make another marriage. She needs to get out before it’s too late.”
In Come Rain or come Shine, a couple whose marriage is unravelling try to engage an old friend in settling things but with tragic-farcical consequences.
Nocturnes is an unusual book that tries to rely on memory, albeit it unreliable memory to make sense of life. It is a book chockfull of sighs and recollections of bygone days and things past their prime. This is a book of regrets and very little nostalgia.