Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

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.

9 thoughts on “Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro”

  1. I liked these stories too, but they definitely didn’t have the same impact as his novels. Everything he writes is quiet and beautifully written, but I felt like these were just snapshots, sometimes without an ending. As you say, there’s nothing dramatic here.

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  2. As a fan of short stories, this sounds like a good, but as others have noted, a sad collection. I do like the music theme–it would be interesting to see how it played out, so to speak, in the writing.

    Somehow I still haven’t read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro, so this might be a good place for me to start.

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  3. I am reading those short stories at the moment. After reading the first two stories I feel the sense of the characters looking back on their lives with some regret and some melancholy. None of them give out a sense of having control over their lives. They followed what had been dictated to them at one time or another. The second story was really painful to read. I didn’t like the way the so called married “friends” were treating their guest and using him to make them feel better. I was wondering the whole time if people like that really do exist in real life and how lucky I was to not have met their kind before. It was almost like a parody. I was glad when it ended but I still feel sad for those three characters. Anyway I have started the third story and again another bitter sweet almost pathetic story is unraveling. I might keep the rest to sleep until spring as the mood is copying what transpires from the outside of my window. A bit too much at the moment. Thank you Margaret.

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  4. Meghan, I prefer his novels, in particular The Remains of the Day, is one that I would recommend. I found Never Let Me Go almost too unbearable to read though.
    Rhapsody & Diane, they are sad and after I read the first two I put the book down for a while until I felt more in the mood to read it.
    JaneGS, I don’t know enough about music really to comment, except to say that the stories follow a pattern and return again and again to the same theme. There’s no crescendo!
    Roxane, I know exactly what you mean and it’s so good to have your views on these stories. I couldn’t believe that people would behave like that either as the second story progressed. I nearly didn’t bother reading any more after that and left the book for a few weeks.

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  5. I’m really looking forward to reading this book. I’m glad you liked it, even if some of the stories didn’t really have an ending. I love Ishiguro’s other work, so I hope I like this too.

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  6. Now I really have to read this. I really liked “The Remains of the Day” and Ishiguro’s writing style; it seems like a book entirely suited to my personal tastes (music and time) must be read. Good to know that the characters are well-developed – I’m also often suspicious of short stories for that reason…

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