BOOK REVIEW: Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Released: May 5, 2009 (Knopf Canada)
Source: Purchased
Buy Now From: Amazon

In this sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores love, music and the passage of time. This quintet ranges from Italian piazzas to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the “hush-hush floor” of an exclusive Hollywood hotel. Along the way we meet young dreamers, café musicians and faded stars, all at some moment of reckoning. 

Gentle, intimate and witty, Nocturnes is underscored by a haunting theme: the struggle to restoke life’s romance, even as relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.

My Thoughts

Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro, was a book I felt compelled to read after reading a review from Heather’s blog over at Book Addict. She mentioned Ishiguro’s beautiful writing and the fact that she read the small book of 5 short stories over a period of two days. Being a book about music and nightfall, I figured it would be a perfect read.

Just by viewing the cover, the book looked very romantic – this is also evoked by the words “music and nightfall.”

Being a musician myself, I found myself relating to a few of the characters – in Malvern Hills, especially, the main character is seen by his sister and her husband as someone who doesn’t work, despite the fact that he’s working on his music (too many times I feel like I’m seen as being a non-worker – but music truly is something one has to work at).

I’ve always seen music as something that brings people together – different cultures may speak different languages but music is universal. In Nocturnes, music does indeed bring people together – in Come Rain or Come Shine, the two main characters were once schoolmates who loved talking about the jazz classics, something another character knows nothing about, and it brings them together despite the fact there are other issues floating around; in Crooner, two characters are brought together over the love of one of the character’s music, and; in Nocturne, the main character is undergoing surgery (in the hopes that it will help make him a star with his music) and while at his recovery spot he befriends an actor who claims he is a great saxophone player.

But while music brings these people together, it is also something that tears them apart – in Crooner, the Gardners are seen as having a perfect holiday, while in the end Tony sings to his wife as a farewell as this is their last holiday before they separate for good, and; in Malvern Hills, the young songwriter is drawn towards a Swedish couple who used to perform on the stage together, but are now drifting apart as their differences come forth a little too prominently as they recount their time together.

All of these stories are beautiful, yet tragic. There is a light about them – in the writing and in the gentle way Ishiguro uses his words – but then there is also darkness when the reader sees that maybe a relationship wasn’t as it seemed. Each story contains romance, but a sad romance – couples breaking apart, mostly. The only story that is different from this theme is Cellists – a story of a young cello player who finds his mentor in a woman who claims to be a virtuoso, but has never really learned the craft of playing.

It was hard to finish the book and actually feel complete. The stories never did come full circle and I felt a bit of an emptiness when I finished. Maybe I had just hoped for something happier. While Ishiguro has a wonderful way with words, he could have written a story about the beauty of music bringing people together, rather than it being a force that pulls people apart. But maybe that’s just me. I had never read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro before and didn’t know what to expect. The book definitely exceeded my expectations, but in the end I wanted something more.


My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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