Tony's Reviews > Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
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's review
Feb 18, 12

bookshelves: british, music
Read from January 31 to February 18, 2012

It is unseasonably warm for a February Saturday in Pittsburgh. I am on the fifth and final story in Ishiguro's Nocturnes, trying to understand what it all means. Some music would be appropriate to go with this book, subtitled Five Stories of Music and Nightfall.

"This is what we will hear tonight," I say, as the first barely audible notes of Sebelius' Violin Concerto fill the room like a Scandinavian wind.

"I got some blood oranges for a salad. Would you like one?"

"No, thank you," picking up the book, stretching my feet onto the ottoman, searching in the room for the Sebelius.

The peels of a blood orange whir away in the garbage disposal. Sheets tumble in a clothes washer. Sebelius is lost. I return somehow to the Italian piazza where Tibor, a young Hungarian cellist, is approached by an older American woman, Eloise McCormack. She tells him she is a virtuoso and that she knows what he needs to reach a similar height. He accepts her avuncular mentoring and finds his voice.

Sebelius yields, not reluctantly, to Tchaikovsky's Pathetique.

"Oh. There's the mailman. Can you run and get the mail?"

A book about an old map is in my mailbox, fortuitously, as Ishiguro is running out.

The shower starts. I raise the volume for the allegro con grazia. Who wouldn't?

Then why am I performing if not for an audience? Tibor asks. Eloise tells him, At this stage, what you're doing is waiting for that one person to come and hear you. And that one person might just as easily be in a room like that one on Thursday, in a crowd of just twenty people...

The phone rings. The blood oranges were good, I hear, and the sleep last night was the best in a week. Feeling better, yes.

"Can you help me with the sheets for a minute?"


"Oh. Are you writing a review?"

"Yes. But it's okay."

There aren't many like us, Tibor, and we recognize each other. The fact that I've not yet learned to play the cello doesn't really change anything. You have to understand, I am a virtuoso. But I'm one who's yet to be unwrapped. You too, you're still not entirely unwrapped, and that's what I've been doing these past few weeks. I've been trying to help you shed those layers. But I've never tried to deceive you. Ninety-nine per cent of cellists, there's nothing there under those layers, there's nothing to unwrap. So people like us, we have to help each other. When we see each other in a crowded square, wherever, we have to reach out for one another, because there are so few of us.

These five stories seem quotidian, the characters inchoate, on the cusp of something. They are linked with music and self-reflection. Eloise will marry Peter, an American businessman who sells golf equipment in the Pacific Northwest. I guess so. . . . I guess so. Tibor will join a quartet, playing for diners in a hotel who may not even hear the music.

Sebelius and Tchaikovsky tonight. A contrapuntal evening. Because the different melody lines entwine sometimes; the bramble and the rose. And music fills the air.

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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Petra X (new)

Petra X I have the book, enticed by the cover, but I wasn't sure whether to read it or not. I'm still not sure :-)

Tony A 'like' for an unhelpful review! Sweet!

The stories are minimalist, easy and interesting; yet they seemed to end without making a point. Until the last story, that is; which I thought quite good and which resolved things satisfactorily for me.

message 3: by Petra X (new)

Petra X I rate reviews on whether I liked them or not, not on whether I might want to read the book!

Ishiguro seems to be becoming the master of stories that go nowhere and are resolved in gentle ripples.

message 4: by Mike (new)

Mike Ah, I liked this review. The world still goes on while we are immersed in the pages of a book. And you beautifully mingled the experience of reading in the midst of life.

My music for tonight? Copland. "Appalachian Spring." The forsythia, the daffodils are crying for it.

Nice, Tony. I enjoyed your work.


message 5: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· Nearly missed this: it was 3 pages back on the feed after a weekend away! I loved the tone of your review, which must SURELY reflect Ishiguro's style. Or does it just reflect the fact that the stories were not too engaging? I go deaf to the world around me when I'm sunk in.

Tony In ishiguro's world, 'Life goes on' is not just a saying. His stories always have a deceiving simplicity. People, and sometimes people together, hum different melody lines or completely disparate musical genres. I could hardly miss the point as Saturday played out. For completely different reasons, the Pathetique became particularly apt later when a certain sadness crept in. Pardon my cryptic. Though I think Ishiguro would approve.

message 7: by Bennet (new) - added it

Bennet Lovely review. Pitch perfect. I look forward to your reviews but for some reason they don't seem to be showing up in my update feed. I'll say to myself, hmmm, nothing from Tony in a while, and look at your profile and there are reviews I haven't seen in the feed. Strange, not that you aren't worth looking for, but thought I'd let you know.

Tony I checked my settings and there was definitely a checkmark next to "book reviews viewable by Garbo look-a-likes" so I can't explain why you aren't getting any.

message 9: by Bennet (new) - added it

Bennet And there you go, making my day again. Such a charmer.

message 10: by Magdelanye (new)

Magdelanye Petra X wrote: "I rate reviews on whether I liked them or not, not on whether I might want to read the book!

Ishiguro seems to be becoming the master of stories that go nowhere and are resolved in gentle ripples."

my sentiments exactly on both counts!

Fionnuala I just reread this review, Tony, having read and reviewed Nocturnes, and I now appreciate even more what you've done here - that subtle mix of the everyday and the more significant, the Sibelius and the Tchaikovsky, the blood oranges and the old maps... wonderful piece!

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