Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro is a collection of short stories, all with a musical theme and told in the first person. Some of the stories feature the same characters.
The first story, Crooner, is a bittersweet love story. The main character is a guitar player, making his living playing for tourists in Venice, when he spots legendary crooner Tony Gardner in the audience. The narrator’s mother was a huge fan of Tony Gardner’s, so the guitar player approaches Tony to pay tribute to him. After some conversation, Tony employs the guitarist to accompany him later in the day when he serenades his wife, Lindy, from a gondola. The songs Tony sings to Lindy are love songs, but it turns out that they are about to divorce, because, as Tony explains, “Me and Lindy are getting to be a laughing stock,” after having been married for so long. Tony wants to make a comeback and to be successful, believes that he needs a new, younger wife.
Come Rain or Come Shine is the story of a visit between three friends. Emily and Charlie’s marriage is on rocky grounds, and Charlie hopes that a few days of Raymond’s company will remind Emily of the good times they shared when they were at university together. However, Raymond instantly notices that Emily’s face has grown “distinctly bull doggy” which does not make me think she is a happy woman. Charlie disappears, (it turns out he is having an affair) and the visit goes from bad to worse when Raymond reads Emily’s diary and reads, “Raymond coming tomorrow. Groan. Groan.” This story, particularly the section where Raymond is caught by Emily behaving like a dog in an attempt to destroy her diary, had me laughing until I had tears rolling down my face.
Malvern Hills is the story of a middle-aged guitarist who spends a summer living with, (in other words, sponging off), his sister and her husband. One of the male characters is described as having “ABBA style hair.” These three simple words provide a mental image of a character which may never be wiped from my memory.
Nocturne is the story of a sax player who is talented, but too ugly to be successful (!). When his wife leaves him, she asks her new lover to pay for plastic surgery for him. After the surgery, the sax player finds himself recuperating in a hotel room next to Lindy Gardner, who is the ex-wife of legendary Tony Gardner from the first story in this collection, Crooner. Lindy swans around with her head completely bandaged, wearing a dressing-gown “she could have worn to a movie premiere without too much embarrassment.” I had serious dressing-gown envy reading this, since my dressing-gown shouldn’t be worn with the light on, let alone anywhere that movie stars and paparazzi gather. Anyway, Lindy and the sax player have a few adventures while they are recuperating, and an incident with a turkey and a trophy which I defy anyone to read and not snort with laughter.
Cellists is the story of another musician in Venice, playing in cafes to entertain tourists. On their “third time playing The Godfather theme since lunch,” he notices a fellow musician who used to play with his band. This fellow left the band for bigger and better things after being mentored by a mysterious woman. Cellists had a twist I didn’t see coming.
The Remains of the Day by this author is one of the best books I have read in the past few years. Nocturnes has the same understated style, but is much funnier, although the stories are all bittersweet. The stories all seemed to me to be the perfect length, with no padding or details that didn’t belong. I liked the musical theme which tied the stories too.
Kazuo Ishiguro is an author whose work I am looking forward to reading more of.