Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

NocturnesNocturnes is a recently published short stories collection by Kazuo Ishiguro, the Booker Prize winning author.  Like a song cycle, the five stories are arranged with a common motif, alas, the loss of romance.  They take place mainly in Europe, in some romantic settings, like Venice.  The cycle begins and ends there.  Music is the essential backdrop.  It is the common thread linking the various ways the characters attempt to salvage lost love and revive relation stalemates.

Nocturnes is a light read.  The theme could be dealt with seriously, but Ishiguro apparently tries a very different rendition.  I had expected him to depict dreamscapes as he had done with his previous works, such as The Unconsoled, or While We Were Orphans, but I had not expected laugh-out-loud, hilarious scenes.  Unlike the serious tone of The Remains of the Day, we see Ishiguro in a comedic styling.  And, despite the meditative title, it’s not the classical music of Chopin that he has invoked, but Broadway, jazz, Irving Berlin, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, and yes, ABBA, just to name a few.

The quintet is composed of ‘Crooner’, ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, ‘Malvern Hills’, ‘Nocturne’, and ‘Cellists’.   They touch on a basic question:  Is a marriage finished with the loss of romance?  Is revival even possible after lovers have fallen out of love?

Kazuo Ishiguro

‘Crooner’ is poignant in depicting a once hot, now aging American singer trying to offer a last bit of love to his wife before the inevitable end.

‘Malvern Hills’ has a similar story line, but carries additional sadness in that the dispassion extends to the couple’s only son.

‘Nocturne’ offers an interesting perspective on Beverly Hills’ image-driven quest of the rich and famous, and the up-and-coming. It offers some real fun and sardonic humor.

And ‘Cellists’, well, I really don’t know what to make of it, a story about a cellist who is not a cellist…

The most hilarious scene is in ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’.  In the story, the main character has to cover up a mistake he’s made with the excuse that ‘the dog did it’. So, it’s canine method acting that he has to  take up instantly.  It is in such incredulous scenarios that the dreamscapes of Ishiguro emerge.  But this time it is more like merging reality with comedy romp.

Considering the motif of this literary quintet, Ishiguro’s humorous and sometimes farcical way of dealing could well have offered his readers a fresh perspective on the subject matter.  While Nocturnes may be a good pick for a beach read, I admit that I miss the poignant and pensive mood of The Remains of the Day.  I wish too that Ishiguro would re-visit his previous style in his future work, for his writing can be most subtle and incisive, heart-wrenching without commotion.  I missed such tonal expressions here, and the resonance they could have evoked.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2009, 221 pages.


Photo credit: Jane Brown, 17435-kazuo-ishiguro/

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

7 thoughts on “Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall”

  1. Interesting review. I think it would be interesting to read Ishiguro working in a register that’s new for him, although I can see how you would miss a style and tone that you liked in the past. I loved the Ishiguro novels I’ve read so far, so I’m wondering if I would have a similar reaction.


    A different register indeed. But I can understand a writer should not be boxed in, like an actor being type cast. I’m all for variety. I’d like to know what you think if you’ve the chance to read it.



  2. These sound interesting. Alas, I have put off reading everything on my shelf until after the wedding. I’m too distracted.


    Of course… first things first. I often find that summer is such a busy season that ironically it’s harder to find time to read quietly than other time of the year. Thanks for stopping by!



  3. This one is on my radar. Very interesting premise–would love to see what Ishiguro does with ABBA! And a cellist who is not a cellist?! Even more intriguing…Thanks for the review, Arti.


    Since you’re into short stories lately, don’t miss this one. It’s quite different from his previous works, and I’d like to see what other readers think.



  4. Lookie! Here I am, finally beginning to catch up a bit. The best part of falling behind in my blog reading is having so much to enjoy when I get back to it.

    I’m actually quite intrigued by the two stories that seem to promise the most comedy. It may be the heat, or the press of life or the absurdity of recent politics, but I feel ready for a break. Having just read of Flannery O’Connors great triumph – teaching a chicken to walk backwards – I think canine method acting would be a great next step!

    And of course, tomorrow we’ll be subjected to the beginning of the next Michael Jackson chapter. A little Beverly Hills humor might be a nice diversion. This one is coming to live with me!


    Go for it… seems we all need some kind of escape, from the heat in the political realm or entertainment sector. I borrowed this book from the library, and it’s breezy reading.

    Flannery O’Connors… Kazuo Ishiguro, what a contrast in style, but teaching a chicken to walk backwards? There may not be as much difference as I first thought!



  5. This sounds like a fun read. I’ve not read enough Ishiguro to be bothered by a change in style (only read the one about the clones the title of which I can’t now remember but I liked it). I am intrigued by your description of the “Cellists” story!


    That’s Never Let Me Go, which I haven’t read. But one of my all time faves is Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, and the movie too. I like to see what you think of the short stories in his new book. Thanks for stopping by!



  6. Arti, I just finished this and absolutely loved it. I was laughing out loud during the dog scene as well, so funny!

    I thought it was a really poignant book, even considering The Remains of the Day (which is also still my fave, but this one isn’t far behind). Your comment about his writing being “subtle and incisive, heart-wrenching without commotion” is so much present to me in these stories as well. I am embarrassed to admit that I shed a few tears, especially in Crooner.

    I also really loved Malvern Hills a lot. Especially the scene where the guitar guy (I forget his name) was playing for Tilo and Sonja up in the hills. The effect of the music and scenery is just breathtaking.


    I’m glad you’ve had a fun time reading Nocturnes. I was a bit taken aback by his style in these stories, some of them almost border on a farce and romp com. I admit the subject matter is a poignant one, and it’s interesting that he chose to deal with it in a light and even comedic way. It’s personal preference I suppose, I feel the more sombre writing of Ishiguro appeals to me more… he’s an expert in creating mood and atmosphere, not unlike an impressionist painter. The meticulous and nuanced dealing of his characters are impressive regardless of the style. Thanks for the link on your post.



  7. Interesting Arti, your take is rather different to mine. I’m more like Claire. I found them a little darker – a sense of things lurking beneath perhaps – and not quite what I would call a fun beach read, though I found them readable. (If you’re interested in my take you can read it here: )


    Thanks for the link to your review… I’d love to see what others think and compare notes. I could have missed a lot on my first reading. Rereading often brings out more appreciation I feel. That’s certainly true with Never Let Me Go, which I read then saw the movie then came home and reread. I liked it so much more the second time.



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