Nocturnes –– Ishiguro's first collection of short fiction, after half a dozen novels –– offers, as the subtitle puts it, 'five stories of music and nightfall.' Indeed, four of the five pieces here concern musicians, while the fifth features a couple both united and separated by a shared love of song ...the nightfall Ishiguro has in mind is more metaphorical: the encroachment of the darkness of age, and the dimming of the hopes of youth, set in counterpoint against those whose aspirations still burn brightly –– the young, the foolish, the not-yet-disillusioned ... a metaphor for the condition that afflicts nearly everyone in the book: a self-inflicted isolation, a fear of engaging in the perilous enterprise of life ... Part of what makes Ishiguro so refreshing is that he leaves the epiphanies to the reader.
As if in recompense for this banality, Ishiguro does like to afflict his characters with something like Tourette’s syndrome ... The story that most justifies its inclusion under the book’s title is 'Cellists,' where it is only by means of a slowly developed series of 'movements' and after a long sequence of late après-midis that we are led to appreciate the world of mania and deception that can underlie, as with the world of chess, the universe inhabited by the fanatically musical ...these five too-easy pieces are neither absorbingly serious nor engagingly frivolous: a real problem with a musical set, and a disaster, if only in a minor key, when it’s a question of prose.
Nocturnes is not an improvement on Never Let Me Go, however. Indeed it is the kind of book one might expect from a writer recovering from a masterpiece – a diffident, even bashful collection of stories that frequently seems to be apologising for itself ...the stories have the same pallor and self-cancelling pointlessness as those in Borges’s late collection Dr Brodie’s Report – the difference being that whereas Borges offered his book as a conscious exercise in predictable plainness from an author known for trickery and surprise, Ishiguro is resisting his strengths to no obvious purpose ...They are more strongly connected by the subject of marital discord... It is sadly typical of Ishiguro’s tendencies in this book, and an indication of how far it is from his best work.
'Five Stories of Music and Nightfall' is the subtitle of Nocturnes, Ishiguro’s first collection of short pieces. Music, mainly pop (the writer is a devotee and amateur practitioner), provides the common plot link. But nightfall is the deeper connection ... Ishiguro, whose complex ambiguity is his form of affirmation, simultaneously shatters and restores characters ... Its theme is essentially the life/art struggle of the other stories.
In his new book, Nocturnes, Mr. Ishiguro gives us five stories that read like movements of a larger musical piece. All concern aspiring or failed musicians (or music lovers), who delude themselves about their talents or their prospects ...address the author’s favorite themes: the consequences of self-delusion, and the emotional acrobatics people perform in order to remain in control ...they read like heavy-handed O. Henry-esque exercises; they are psychologically obtuse, clumsily plotted and implausibly contrived ... Most of the stories in this volume are concerned with loserdom and ways in which people manufacture rationalizations that will enable them to remain in a state of denial about their failure to fulfill their dreams or their potential.
His best-known work, The Remains of the Day, is propelled by the voice and vantage of an English butler whose attention to detail blurs his grasp of the bigger picture ... The same blinkered perspective is used to different ends in Ishiguro's latest effort, a short-story collection grouped together under the moody title Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall ... In each story, Ishiguro tells the tale of a young or middle-aged man with an ear for melody but not much else ... More important is that each of them seems rootless and clueless in a world that rewards savvy, linked-in operators ... This tension between commercial and critical success keeps popping up in these stories, suggesting how finely tuned Ishiguro might be to the struggle.
Compared to his novels, Nocturnes is light – but by no means lightweight. It is a cycle of five not-quite-novella-length stories linked by a shared concern with striving musicians and the challenges of art and love ... Although these stories, too, involve people absorbed in their narrowly focused interests, the confusing, surreal atmosphere that blankets The Unconsoled... Written in the first person, with a strong sense of voice, these stories – like his novels – also end largely on a note of resignation. But they are filled with dialogue, conversations between aspirants and has-beens that capture the eagerness for praise that drives these insecure performers ... Like the Chopin pieces their title evokes, Ishiguro’s Nocturnes are deceptively simple, expressive and harmonic, delicate yet substantive.
Ishiguro has cornered the market on the befuddled character, and in his new short story collection Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, he has not abandoned his faithful flock of readers with a soft spot for the clueless and confused ... Nocturnes is five short stories linked by music, humor, and the recurrence of a few characters, some more confused than others ...the main characters in Nocturnes are predominantly musicians and music aficionados; it is their love of this art that drives these stories in unique ways ... Nocturnes’ reads like a good blues song with humorous uppity riffs to keep everything balanced and politely in perspective.
Ishiguro has explained that its five stories — all of which feature music or musicians in prominent roles — were conceived as a single, multi-part work; what’s fascinating about that is that from story to story Ishiguro moves between his realist mode and his more subjective, even fantastic approach... As we’ve come to expect from Ishiguro, all five stories are first-person accounts, tightly constrained by the consciousness and perceptions of their narrators. Characters recur, and the narrative voice, even as its owner changes, retains a certain casual, colloquial, even awkward tone that will be familiar to readers of Never Let Me Go...he deftness with which Ishiguro moves from the world of ordinary human motivations to pathology and comic — yet troubling — absurdity is stunning, as is the resolution of the story, which is unexpectedly calm, kind, and even generous.
...what most binds these stories: the conflict between what music promises and what life delivers. Nocturnes is Ishiguro's first collection of short stories, after six novels ... Like a cycle, the collection begins and ends in the same place – Italy – and it contains modulations of tone that would be awkward within a single narrative ... All the narrators in Nocturnes sound roughly similar and the collection is saved from monotony by Ishiguro's subtle shifts of register ... The bittersweet memories that such music evokes make it suited to Ishiguro's style, but the air of stillness and regret, and the sense of missed opportunities, are tempered now and then by moments of farce or surrealism. Each of these stories is heartbreaking in its own way.
As indicated by both the title and subtitle, all the stories in this fictional equivalent of a concept album concern musicians and the evening. But even more holds them together. All are first-person narratives (four of them by musicians) and most have a recurring motif of exchanging early promise for something — a marriage, a career, maybe both — that one settles for, once the daylight of youth has given way to the twilight of middle age ... The writing is so exquisite throughout that the reader forgives the fact that at least two of these stories don’t make much literal sense ... Like sophisticated literary mood music, this book lingers in the memory, ringing true in theme and metaphor even when lacking plausibility.