Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro is a quintet of stories exploring the themes of love, music and the passing of time. All have narrators who are musicians. As I wrote in an earlier post I’m not a great fan of short stories but these are better than most as they do flesh out the characters in more detail, although some of them just seem to stop rather than ending, leaving me wanting more. There’s nothing dramatic here, rather they are gentle stories with a touch of nostalgia and a sense of loss for what has gone or what could have been.
The first story is The Crooner set in Venice. A young Hungarian musician playing in a cafe meets his mother’s favourite singer, the ageing Tony Gardner. Tony enlists the musician’s help in seranading his wife, Lindy from a gondola. He reminisces, looking back with nostalgia over the 27 years he and Lindy have been married. They rehearse the songs he’s going to sing to her, all the while going round in circles passing the same palazzo several times. By the end of the story I was left feeling sad – things were not what they initally seemed.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Come Rain or Shine. Ray goes to stay with his friends Emily and Charlie. Their marriage is obviously going through a bad patch and when he is left alone in their flat bored with reading Mansfield Park and browsing their CD collection he can’t stop himself from reading Emily’s diary. What follows is farcical as in his attempts to hide the fact he read the diary he ends up wrecking the room and pretends that it was the neighbour’s dog.
The Malvern Hills, is another sad story about a young musician who’s struggling to make his way in the rock world. He retreats to the Malvern Hills to compose love songs. There he meets an older couple, Swiss folk singers Sonja and Tilo, whose lives are on the point of change.
Noctune, the title story again features Lindy some years later. She and a saxophonist are neighbours, convalescing in a luxury hotel after they’ve both had plastic surgery. A sad bittersweet story as they listen to CDs and then go on a nocturnal walk around the hotel in the early hours of the morning. But their lives have not lived up to their dreams and a plastic surgeon can’t fix that.
The last story Cellists completes the cycle – back in the same cafe in a piazza in Venice seven years later. Tibor, one of the cellists, meets and falls under the spell of Eloise, an American who is apparently a distinguished musician. Their encounter changes his life for the worse.
These stories are full of longing and regret, something which I think Ishiguro does well.