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.