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Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

In a hiatus of one month, I picked up the book from the library shelf in a whim.

Little did I connect the relevance of today being a Valentine’s day and here I am reading a book about nightfall and the trial and end of relationships, until I typed the first sentence of the blog entry.

Nocturnes consist of 5 stories of Music and nightfall. The protagonists in all 5 stories are struggling musicians, either in their twilight or experiencing mid-life crisis of possessing copious musical talent without the glimpse of a big break, all of them at some moment of reckoning.

In ….,

Story 1: Crooner

Janeck is a guitarist who performs in Venice’s piazza for passing tourists when one day he met Ton Gardner which is Janeck’s mother idol. Tony enlist Janeck’s help to serenade his wife  because it is their last night together as husband and wife. After that, the Gardners must go their separate ways. As Janeck and Tony sat in their gondolas and waiting for Lindy to appear at the window, Tony recalled how Lind and him firs t met.

Story 2: Come Rain or Shine

Emily, Charles and Raymond are high school friends. Emily and Charles ended up married to each other, and Ray are their good friends who bunk in with them occasionally. Ray was invited to stay with them, while Charles is scheduled to travel for work and Emily at work, Raymond stumbled upon Emily’s private diary entry describing Ray as a constant nuisance that whizzes in and out of their lives. In the spur of anger, he crumbled the pages of the diary and was petrified that this rash act might draw Emily’s wrath. So fearful of her wrath that Charles told Ray to set the scene of a messy living room, to make Emily believe that Hendrix his neighbour dog came for a visit and crumbled and chew on her diary. Charles then advise Ray to cook up a recipe of bad doggy smell to make the lie more believable, the recipe is:

Recipe for Dog Smell Concoction

  • Put about a pint of water in the saucepan.
  • Add two beef stock cubes
  • 1 dessert spoon of cumin
  • 1 tablespoon of paprika
  • 2 tablespoons of vinegar
  • A generous lot of bay leaves
  • Put a leather shoe or boot upside down, so the sole’s not actually immersed in the water, so that u don’t get any hint of burning rubber.
  • Turn on the gas, bring the concoction to the boil, let it simmer and you will get an awful smell.

The underlying issue is a marital problem between Charles and Emily, and Ray was expected to be the catalyst to help them make-up, to let Emily get some perspective:

Endless horizons are all very well when you’re young. But get to our age (advanced age), you’ve got to get some perspective.

Story 3: Malvern Hill

He (with no name) visiting sister Maggie and husband, Geoff, in Malvern Hill and work in their cafe without wages, while he is building up his inspiration among the hills to compose his music where he met an old couple Tilo and Sonja who has different perspective about life. Tilo is positive about the things he saw and Sonja complains about everything she encounters. Because Sonja was being so difficult in the cafe that he send them off to Hags Fraser, his obnoxious retired school teacher who runs a depilated hotel. They parted with the old couple wishing Good luck in his music career, and he, their marriage.

Story 4: Nocturnes

“You, Steve, you’re …well, you’re dull, loser ugly. The wrong kind of ugly. Listen have you ever considered having a little work done? Of a surgical nature, I mean?”

Bradley Stevenson said to Steve, a jazz player.  Bradley is Steve’s manager and thinks that Steve has all the talent to be famous but one thing that stops him from getting to the top is his looks. Helen, Steve’s girlfriend had left him.

“Helen’s got this carefully planned. Consider her position. She loves you. But looks-wise, well, you’re an embarrassment when you’re seen in public. You’re no turn-on. “ Helen wants Steve to do something about it  but Steve refuse, so what did Helen do? She got her new boyfriend Pendergast to pay for Steve’s plastic surgery. Bizarre? Yes.

So while Steve wrapped up in bandage, he befriended Lindy Gardner of the next room. Lindy is recuperating from her 3rd plastic surgery too. Steve simply abhorred Lindy, but as they played chess together and wandered through the dark corridors of the plastic surgery retreat, they are involved in an adventure of hiding the best jazz player prize in a turkey, and trying to get it back in its original place, and the occasional fights and a passage that easily would have came from my mouth:

‘Maybe Jake Marvell work damn hard to get where they have. And maybe the deserve a little recognition. The trouble with people like you, just because God’s given you this special gift, you think that entitles you to everything. That you’re better than the rest of us, that you deserve to go to the front of the line every time. You don’t see there’s a whole of other people weren’t as lucky as you who work really hard for their place in the world…’  said Lindy

So you don’t think I work hard? You think I sit on my ass all day? I sweat and heave to come up with something worthwhile, something beautiful, thenwho is it gets the recognition? Jake Marvell! People like you!” – Steve

Steve is coming to regret his decision as a week before he’d been a jazz musician. Now he was just another pathetic hustler, getting his face fixed in a bid to crawl after the Lindy Gardners of this world into vacuous celebrity. – Lindy by the way had offered to bring Steve’s CD demo to people that might make him famous.

I just had to quote how this passage resonates how I feel about aspiring to be in the big league:

When lindy was about to go, i said: ‘I love you,’ in that fast, routine way you say it at the end of a call with a spouse. There was a silence of a few seconds, then she said it back, in the same routine way. Then she was gone. God knows what  that meant. There’s nothing to do now, i guess, but wait for these bandages to come off.  And then what? Maybe Lindy’s right. Maybe, like she says, I need some perspective, and life really is much bigger than loving a person. Maybe this really is a turning point for me, and the big league’s waiting. Maybe she’s right.


The final story again is about Tibor, a Hungarian, who is a talented cellist, who blossomed under Oleg Petrovic tutelage. One day he met Miss McCormack who saw Tibor played at the piazza and soon she extend invitation to Tibor to play for her every afternoon and with her critique and guidance, Tibor’s musical talent improved by leap and bounds. Except for the suspicion that hangs in the air…Tibor never heard Eloise herself play the cello.

The story was told by a 3rd narrator, and when he saw Tibor again, we were left with the question whether Tibor became a famous maestro, had a day job or still playing in the piazza.

Rating: 3/5

Ishiguro did not shed his narrative style of building suspense over life’s little thing, which turned out to be insignificant really. These stories are a little quirky and with a deep examination of human emotions with my favourite being Come rain or shine and Nocturnes. It was meant to be exploring a theme of struggling to keep alive romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.

It is a mellow read and the stories make you feel old as it builds on characters who are aging or a stuck in a marriage that had gone weary or just plain stuck in the rut. It has a melancholic ambience to it. A book for rainy days or a validation that you are not alone in feeling blue and depressed.

I have read “Never Let Me Go” earlier in 2009. I still look forward to read “The Remains of the Day” one day.

I’m reading this for A to Z Reading Challenge.

Hardback. Publisher: Faber & Faber 2009; Length: 221; Setting: Modern day Europe or America. Source: Library Loan. Finished reading at: 14 Feb 2010

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


5 thoughts on “Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. I read this last year, and remembered loving it. In fact, I think it was this collection that got me started with trying to read more short stories. I’m definitely with you about the ‘melancholic ambience’, because I felt that was what I loved most about it.

    Posted by Michelle | February 19, 2010, 11:21 pm
  2. Poor man must spend his life feeling mellow and melancholic because Remains of the Day has that sense too. I think he needs to get himself a puppy

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | February 22, 2010, 5:09 am
  3. I bought this just a few months ago, and I can’t wait to read it!

    Posted by Bellezza | March 3, 2010, 12:46 am


  1. Pingback: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro « JoV's Book Pyramid - March 24, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

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The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
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Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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