Book review: Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Once again I’m showing how bad I am at reading the books I already own and how hard I find it to resist the temptation of buying new ones. I picked up Nocturnes at the end of February 2015. Yes, nearly a year ago. Also not quite a month after my father had specifically taken me bookshopping (it’s a word) for my birthday and had let me get a good stack of books, of which I had nearly finished reading one. However, I found myself stuck in the city centre with a couple of hours to kill and I didn’t have a book on me, so obviously I had to shop. Having loved both Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day I was drawn to Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro. Naturally, I read five pages of each of them and then didn’t pick any of them up again until now.


Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro


Ishiguro is a master of heartbreaking novels. I was curious about this text of five short stories, all with the theme of music and the evening. All also and perhaps more obviously with the theme of vague disappointment and regret, and of love. It’s hard initially to know what to make of them, but they’re compelling and haunting and in the end, I read them all in a day.

I think my favourite was the first story. It’s set in Venice and a young musician is playing in a band entertaining people who are drinking coffee on a piazza. The young musician spots another musician, one who his mother loved very much when he was growing up in an unnamed communist country. He introduces himself and agrees to help the man with a romantic plan to surprise the man’s wife; he intends to serenade her from the canal with her favourite old songs. Sound like a happy story? If so, you’ve never read any Ishiguro. It’s romantic, but not in the “and they all lived happily ever after” sense.

Anther theme seems to be irritability. The characters, especially the musicians, seem to be quick to offend, proud and argumentative. They take to heart throw away comments and brood over small pieces of conversation that should be inconsequential. Disagreements are common and they fade away as quickly as they get started, only to be restarted later. I don’t think I know anyone who’s like that in real life but, then again, I don’t know many musicians. Perhaps it’s intended to poke fun at egocentric virtuosos?

I enjoyed this book and I’m not normally a fan of short stories. However, if you’re new to Ishiguro and you want something that packs his famously hard punch, something really heartbreaking, then try Never Let Me Go. It’s still my favourite.



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