Nocturnes – Kazuo Ishiguro

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I haven’t read any of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books before, although have a few here in the TBR pile and have heard only good things about his writing. I wasn’t planning to read this one, but then I spotted someone returning it at the library. I know how hard these new releases are to borrow and so snapped up the chance to get it, but when I got it home I realised that it wasn’t really my sort of book. I’m not a fan of short stories and  a quick scan through the blurb revealed the stories to be based around music – something I like listening to, but have no real passion for.

I read the first story, and had almost decided to return it to the library when I spotted Jane’s review. She urged me to continue, highlighting the fact that it is a quick, well written read. I agree with her, and in many ways I am pleased that I read it all the way to the end.

The stories are all based around ‘music and nightfall’ and while they are well written, they encounter the major problem I have with short stories, which is that the moment I start to bond with the characters and become interested in their story, they are gone. The depth and complexity of plot which I love in a novel can never be present in a story lasting just a few pages.

Each of the stories was based around the lives of reasonably normal people, and so didn’t give any insight into different lives or ways of thinking, as in The Thing Around Your Neck (one of the only short story collections I’ve ever liked). The plots were all quite gentle, and this book reminded me of Brooklyn, the Booker prize nominated book, which I read recently. I think anyone who loved Brooklyn would enjoy reading this collection, especially if you are a music fan.

If you enjoy reading short stories, then this is a reasonably good collection, but it wasn’t for me.

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I’m planning to read at least one of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books before the end of the year.

Which one do you think is the best?


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55 Comments

  1. Heidi says:

    The only book of his I have read was Never Let me Go. I read it in the last few months-it was short listed for the Booker prize the year it came out and it won numerous other awards. It is honestly one of the best books I have read this year so far. It was a really different experience–the book is subtle almost creeps up on you. The novel is not really about what it seems to be at first. It doesn’t have a happy comforting ending and I could see why some people will dislike it. Also it seemed slow at times (you wonder why so much detail about such small things and their childhood) but in the end it all came together and I found I thought about the book quite a bit afterwords– even talking aloud to myself at one point right after it ended! A book that has an impact and makes you think about really what it means to be human and how we treat it other–the value we try to glean from our lives. The unique atmosphere of his books as well is hard to describe he is extremely gifted. I think I will attempt Remains of the Day as his next book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Hi Heidi!

      Thank you for letting me know that Never Let me Go is such a good book. I have a copy here, so may attempt it soon.

      I’ve also got copies of The Dwarf and Blood of Flowers since your recommendation. I hope to squeeze them in soon!

      1. Sandy says:

        Just thought I would pop in and say that I really liked Never Let Me Go as well, but that doesn’t always mean you will Jackie! It is subtle, and a little creepy (nothing you can’t handle), and left me feeling more than a bit disturbed. We need to get you something hard core here…too much softness! At least you are officially done with the Japanese Literature Challenge already!

  2. Nymeth says:

    I actually didn’t know the stories in this collection were based on music! That makes me even more excited to read it. I’m sorry it didn’t quite work for you, but as I really like Ishiguro and tend to like short story collections I think it probably will for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Yes – if you like short stories I’m sure you’ll enjoy this collection. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

  3. Steph says:

    I don’t know which one I think is best, but I will disagree with Heidi and say that Never Let Me Go is hopefully one of his worst… because I thought it was not a very good book. It raises some interesting issues, but the writing was so flat and monotonous, that I felt Ishiguro actually did a disservice to his material with his writing. We read it for my book club a few years back and we all pretty much universally disliked it, and we were all surprised it had been nominated for any awards. The plot was interesting and good, but I felt it was executed in a very clunky way… it was one of those books where you feel like the book is given notice because of the ideas it presents, rather than how it presents them. Given that you are a reader who likes a good story, I could see you enjoying it… I just expected so much more!

    1. Heidi says:

      Yeah everyone is either in the hate it or love it camp on this book that I have ever talked to. It illicits strong responses I think! I have only read this book of his and have nothing to compare it to. Which did you like best since I would defintely like to read more of his novels?

      1. Heidi says:

        Oops wasn’t being sarcastic–skimmed your email first time and see on closer look the first sentence. Sorry about that.

  4. Hmm…I didn’t know he wrote short stories. I’m kind of intrigued.

    Back in high school, I read Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans. Try either of those. I know I read Orphans for school, and then I wanted to read more by him because I enjoyed it.

    1. Jackie says:

      I never got to read this sort of thing in school – all we had was Shakespeare and poetry – I’m jealous!

  5. Molly says:

    I share your same frustration with short stories – but I am trying to read more of them in an effort to learn how to write one myself.

    I have yet to read a novel by Ishiguro, although The Remains of the Day has been on my TBR list for quite some time.

    1. Jackie says:

      I am trying to give short stories a go – I have read a few this year, but it isn’t working. I think it is nearly time to give up on them.

  6. I like short stories, I should pick this one up. I haven’t read anything by this author at all. I just started a book by Amy Tan which is another author that I had heard about and longed to read, but just seemed to not get to it. I love finding new favourite authors and then I ask myself why I didn’t try that author sooner.

    Sorry, I am babbling…too much coffee I suppose :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy Tan is one of my favourite authors! I love discovering new ones too – especially if they have already written lots of great books. I look forward to reading your Amy Tan review.

  7. David Nolan says:

    Personally I didn’t enjoy “Nocturnes” very much either. A particular low point was a guy pretending to be a dog making a mess of his friend’s home. However, to be fair, I’ve read very few short stories so don’t have very many sources of comparison. Ishiguro is clearly a talented writer and he deserves credit for trying out many different styles and settings, and now for venturing away from the novel to the short story.

    With regard to which of his other books you might like to try, I loved “The Remains of the Day” and I see that is has garnered a few recommendations from fellow commenters. Having said that, it is one of those books in which not very much happens and I know that you do not always like those. “Never Let Me Go” might be more likely to hit the spot, though it clearly divides people quite strongly.

    The only one of his novels that I really could not get along with was “The Unconsoled”. It is one of the most bizarre novels I have ever tried to read. When published it came as quite as a shock to his readers who had grown accustomed to Ishiguro producing books that were far more real than surreal. The shock was something like what happened when Bob Dylan went electric, or what it would have been like if The Beatles had gone straight from the mainstream pop of “She Loves You (Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!)” to the arty wierdness of the Seargent Pepper album.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thank you for your detailed comment. I’m pleased to discover I’m not alone in my feelings for Nocturnes. There were a few weird bits!

      The more I read, the more intrigued I am by all his books. It is good to know that you enjoyed them all to some extent. I might have to try a few soon!

  8. FleurFisher says:

    Well I’m relieved that you don’t regret reading to the end! I’m with the camp recommending Never let Me Go. I love the Remains of the Day, but I think Never Let Me Go may be more you.

    1. Jackie says:

      Yes – I’m plesed that you encouraged me to finish it – it was very quick!

  9. Jenny says:

    I’ve only read three of his books, but I think I enjoyed The Remains of the Day the most. However, I have this prejudice in favor of England-after-the-wars and the dying aristocracy – Never Let Me Go might be a better one to try. It is certainly very interesting and creepy, in a very Ishiguro way.

    1. Jackie says:

      I like creepy! There wasn’t much creepiness in this collection of short stoires, so it looks like a big departure from his normal style.

  10. Claire says:

    I haven’t read any Ishiguro but intend to at some point; Angela Carter taught him creative writing at U. of East Anglia in the early eighties, amongst other writers, and this always interested me. The Remains of the Day is a Booker winner so I’ll be reading that; I’m fairy certain I have a copy of Never Let Me Go somewhere to read; A Pale View of Hills is the one I am most interested in reading currently, potentially for the Japanese lit challenge.

    1. Jackie says:

      I didn’t realise that! I haven’t read any Angela Carter either though. So many authors to try!! It is a good job I read quite quickly!

  11. claire says:

    I have been saving Nocturnes and When We Were Orphans for a rainy day, as I really love Ishiguro. My favourite is The Remains of the Day, but I’m not sure you’ll like it, as it is very gentle as well.

    While Never Let Me Go was my least favourite and I didn’t like it so much when I was reading it, I came to appreciate it more afterwards, as while Steph said the writing was clunky (I thought it very simplistic and stilted), BUT then I realize Ishiguro made it exactly that way purposefully because it fit the voice of the protagonist so well. If the voice sounded more normal, the voice wouldn’t have been as believable. I have never disliked an Ishiguro novel, not even The Unconsoled which was way over my head when I read it very young.

    Do not read A Pale View of Hills because it might be way too gentle for you (I loved it, though).

    1. Jackie says:

      It is strange how you build up impressions of authors you haven’t read. I never pictured Ishiguro as being gentle. I thought he was more weird and creepy. It is good to know these things in advance and I’ll avoid Pale View of the Hills for a while!

  12. Swati says:

    Two very differing views on Never Let Me Go there…
    Personally I loved Never Let Me Go. It starts off as a boarding school What-Katy-Did kind of story and then takes a coompletely different turn. And I really didn’t see the ending coming. If I have ever been close to tearrs, it’s while reading this book.
    I haven’t read anything else by Ishiguro, but I’m going to read A Pale View Of The Hills soon for the Japanese Literature Challenge and am looking forward to it.

    1. Jackie says:

      I know – I am loving reading all the different comments – I haven’t seen such polarisation on an author for a while.

  13. I’ve not read this, but have read When We Were Orphans, and Never Let Me Go. I loved Never Let Me Go – think it was one of my favorite books of 2006, so, I’d definitely recommend that.

    I read When We Were Orphans when I was fourteen, and remember enjoying it back then. I barely remember it now, but, I think it’s one of those books that I must re-read – if for nothing else, to re-appreciate it.

    Pity you didn’t enjoy this as much, but, I’m probably echoing about five voices here, when I say, give Never Let Me Go a shot!

    1. Jackie says:

      I can’t imagine reading that sort of thing when I was 14. I was into Point Horror and Sweet Valley High!

  14. Melody says:

    I’ve not read any of his books yet, but I do have Never Let Me Go in my TBR pile. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book so I hope I’ll enjoy this book too.

    Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this book when you get to it.

    1. Jackie says:

      I have Never Let me Go here too. I still can’t decide which to read first – I feel like grabbing one now, but I have to get through all the Booker list, so it will have to wait a month or two.

  15. Rebecca says:

    I have this on my TBR list.

    1. Jackie says:

      I look forward to comparing notes with you!

  16. Michelle says:

    Was interesting reading the comments for this one. I loved Never Let Me Go. It was my first attempt at Ishiguro. Then I read Remains of the Day and it was just so subtle that it took me a few attempts to read it. Now I’m on Pale View of Hills, and I’ve had to put it down and come back to it later. It’s really good and I’m enjoying it, but I couldn’t read it all the way through at one time.

    1. Jackie says:

      I have loved reading the comments too! I couldn’t believe how many there were when I woke up this morning!

  17. Victoria says:

    I haven’t read as much Ishiguro as I would like, but I can add my voice to those recommending ‘Never Let Me Go’. I think it is probably one of the most raw and humane books I’ve ever read. Saying that I think the classic of his ouevre is ‘The Remains of the Day’. Like all of his fiction it is packed with heavily repressed emotion, as though he sees and feels everything through a thick veil. He seems to capture perfectly what is most suffocating and stoical about his English characters.

    1. Jackie says:

      I love raw emotion! All his books sound so interesting now.

  18. Verity says:

    I quite enjoyed Never Let Me Go although its not the sort of book I normally read. The remains of the day was also very good – very intriguing!

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m interested that you don’t think Never Let Me Go isn’t the sort of book you’d normally read. Why? I would have thought it fitted well with your reading list. Perhaps I just don’t know you as well as I thought!

  19. Violet says:

    I am not a fan of short stories either even though I have read a couple of great short stories books. I’ve read Never Let me Go by him and I loved it. It’s such a fantastic book. I’ll probably skip this one, I have Remains of the day on my TBR.

    1. Jackie says:

      If you’re not a fan of short stories then I’d avoid this one. I look forward to reading Never Let Me Go at some point.

  20. Meghan says:

    The Remains of the Day is my personal favorite. It is a quiet book in which nothing much happens, but I found the emotional impact to be so intense, given all that the narrator is hiding from himself and can only express indirectly.

    I’m not sure how many people who have commented here have read most of Ishiguro’s work, but I’ve read all except this and The Unconsoled and I will say he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. Admittedly he does the trick the best I’ve ever seen, but all of his narrators are unreliable and the reader tends to guess at the truth until the end. I love his work but I read them all way too close together, so I suggest waiting between novels. That, however, is why I’m looking forward to the short stories. Since I do love his work, I suspect I will love them as well. =)

    1. Jackie says:

      A lot of authors suffer from the same problem. I try not to read books by the same author in a row for this very reason, but thank you for pointing this out – I’ll know to be especially careful with this author in the future.

  21. Jennifer says:

    I read Never Let me Go and really enjoyed it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Great! I look forward to reading it at some point.

  22. mee says:

    I have the same problem with short stories like you. I don’t think I’m gonna read this book anytime soon (like you, I don’t have that passion for music too). I do encourage you to read one of his novels. I’ve read Never Let Me Go and When We Were Orphans and enjoyed them — and people say they’re not his best works! I would love to read Remains of the Day (as many people say it is his best, and also a Booker winner). But get Never Let Me Go if you want something different.

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m reading all the Bookers, so will get to Remains of the Day before too long. I hope to read all the others at some point. Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed them.

  23. Dan Holloway says:

    I have only just come to this site, and am increasingly glad I did. Like you I have never read Ishiguro before (but have always known I ought to), and bought Nocturnes with palpable anticiaption. I LOVE music, and imagined a series of delicate, beautifully characterised meditations. What I found were short stories that, whilst not bad, were (I guess at least it’s musical!) somewhat flat. This has to go down in 2009’s list of disappointing reads alongside Marie Darrieusecq’s Pig Tales (doesn’t hold a candle to the magnificent Mal de Mer) and Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (Men In Space is on my permanent top 10).

    1. Jackie says:

      I’ve not heard of Pig Tales, but will remember to avoid it! I don’t even know you – but after the WH debate I will trust your opinion LOL!!!

    2. John Self says:

      Dan, I’m very interested to see your comments about Remainder. I read it when it came out and had mixed feelings about it – basically, I didn’t think much of it apart from the ending – but since then it has grown in my estimation so much that I am sure to reread it before long. I expect to like it a lot more next time around.

      However I’d heard from people who liked Remainder that Men in Space wasn’t as good – so this could mean that if you like one, you dislike the other, which seems to have been your experience.

      1. Dan Holloway says:

        You may well be right. One of the things I loved about Men In Space was the multiple POV – and I love Eastern Europe. McCarthy’s prose in it is so fluid it seems to glide along, whereas Remainder has a single protagonist with whom I just can’t get along, despite feeling I ought to – and “ought” is a word that always rings alarm bells with books.

  24. Stewart says:

    The Remains Of The Day is one of my favourite novels. It’s such a subtle piece of brilliance.

    I’ve not read all of Ishiguro yet — just An Artist Of The Floating World (can barely remember it) and Never Let Me Go (a worthwhile novel) — but really should put in the time at some point. His short story, A Last Supper is a him writ small, but nevertheless a great piece.

    1. Jackie says:

      I notice that noone else mentioned Artist of the Floating World – I’ve not heard of that one and it seems that it isn’t being as widely read as the others. I think I’ll leave that one until I’ve read quite a few others, but do plan to read Never Let Me Go soon.

  25. John Self says:

    I’d go along with those suggesting The Remains of the Day, which I think is probably one of the finest novels in English of the late 20th century. It could save you time too, because if you don’t like it, then you can pretty safely say that you don’t like Ishiguro.

    David Nolan’s point above about The Unconsoled is interesting. It’s actually my favourite of Ishiguro’s books, partly because it makes such a break with his previous books. He said of writing it after The Remains of the Day:

    [The Remains of the Day] was a little too easy for me, the writing process wasn’t quite so interesting for me as it could have been because it felt like a book I was already very familiar with.

    By then I think I was quite ready for something that would be quite difficult for me to write. In some ways I was quite hungry for a different relationship with critics. I had felt that I was in danger of becoming too cosy as a writer.

    He certainly got a different relationship with critics, with some thinking him mad and others calling it a masterpiece.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thanks for the recommendation.

      I love the quote! The line between masterpiece and madness has always been quite vague – it clearly shows he’s on to something.

  26. Geraldine says:

    I have only read Remains of the Day, but I really loved it. I picked up Nocturnes at the bookshop but avoided it because of never having really read any short stories.

    Not sure I’ll be jumping to buy this one…

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