In a sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the ‘hush-hush floor’ of an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers to cafe musicians to faded stars, all of them at some moment of reckoning. Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme: the struggle to keep alive a sense of life’s romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.
3.25 Stars (Rounded to 3)
Kazuo Ishiguro is an incredibly acclaimed and popular author and winner of the Man Booker prize, and so naturally I wanted to give his work a read. This collection of five short stories was one I picked up on impulse, and I set to reading it bit-by-bit in the gaps between exams (which I have now finished, so am free to read again!). I have to say that, while I can see why people adore his writing, and I am very keen to read one of his novels, this short story collection maybe wasn’t the best taste of Ishiguro’s work.
- Ishiguro’s writing is, perhaps unsurprisingly, technically fantastic. Even when the story he was telling wasn’t particularly fascinating, I was hooked by how well it was written. All five of the short stories had their own rather distinct narrative voice (which turned out to be one of the biggest distinguishing factors between them) and these narratives succeeded in keeping me entertained.
- I am a big music lover, so the musical theme running through the five stories was one that I did appreciate, and it was through the musical aspect that I gained a lot of understanding about the characters.
- Varying between 35 and 60 pages, each story was, in my opinion, the perfect length for a short story of its type. Not too short that it feels rushed or leaves me wanting more, but not so long that my interest tailed off, or that it became less like a short story and more like a proper novel.
- I really enjoyed the stories ‘Crooner’ and ‘Malvern Hills’ especially. In ‘Crooner’, I thought the story of the characters’ failing marriage was done very poignantly, and I think this story made me think a lot more than the others in the collection. ‘Malvern Hills’ was a favourite because I felt like I could relate a little bit to the main character, and the side characters of Tilo and Sonja were the most entertaining characters of the lot. Also, while I wasn’t the biggest fan of the story, ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ had some very funny moments that really stood out against the melancholy feel of the book.
- I liked that, even though all five stories are independent of one another, there were strong links between them, and even a recurring character or two.
- All of the stories, while readable, and to an extent enjoyable, were so similar it became hard to distinguish between them at times. ‘Strong links’ became ‘the same plot regenerated with different characters’; all five stories included very similar failing relationships (the similarities were especially prominent in ‘Crooner’, ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ and ‘Nocturne’), and at some points, it became rather repetitive.
- I think the collection was fundamentally a little bit boring at times; sometimes the melancholy feel gave way to utter dire. I wasn’t a fan of either ‘Nocturnes’ or ‘Cellists’, primarily as they had some very unlikable characters, but also as by that point in the collection (stories four and five) I felt like I had read it all before, and Ishiguro’s writing was no longer enough to hook me.
- Some of the stories had incredibly abrupt endings, that felt a little too open. I would have liked to see some of them rounded off a little better.
Would I recommend? – If you enjoy Ishiguro’s writing and have already read his novels, then yes, but otherwise, while I did love his writing, I’d say pick up his novels instead.