The power of music to shape and influence people’s lives is the central theme of the five stories in Nocturnes, the first short story collection from Kazuo Ishiguro, the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day.
I enjoy Ishiguro’s work, particularly his 2001 novel When We Were Orphans, and I was interested in seeing how his short stories would compare to his novels. While some stories in the collection are stronger than others, the quality of the writing kept me reading, even when Ishiguro threw in some less than convincing plot twists.
My favorite selection in the collection is “Come Rain or Come Shine,” which tells the story of a man who learns, through a series of increasingly disconcerting events, that his highly refined taste in music is the only quality his two closest friends like about him. In the story, Ray, an English teacher, returns to England to visit Emily and Charlie, a married couple who have known Ray since their days at university. It soon becomes clear that Charlie and Emily are having marital problems, and Ray’s attempts to help his longtime friends reveal some uncomfortable truths about Emily and Charlie’s feelings toward Ray. It’s a testament to Ishiguro’s skill as a writer that the portrait he creates of the central characters is so convincing that upon finishing the story, I felt like I had known them for years.
The one false note (pardon the pun) Ishiguro strikes comes with the story “Nocturne.” This story is a disappointment because he takes an intriguing premise—a talented jazz musician undergoes radical plastic surgery in the hopes that an “improved” appearance will transform his career— and undermines it with an over-the-top climax whose slapstick humor borders on the absurd.
Overall, I enjoyed Nocturnes and would recommend it to readers who enjoy short stories as well as fans of Ishiguro’s novels.
Check the WRL Catalog for Nocturnes