Share via Email Shadowy purposes … Kazuo Ishiguro. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian The Unconsoled is a difficult, perplexing and uniquely challenging book. There are also moments of exquisite comedy. Then again, this position is also potentially interesting; partly because this is a book with such a high dropout rate that I now know as much as some readers ever will, and partly because at this stage I have so many questions in common with Ryder. I currently have the same problem as the narrator while he moves through the story. But this is a confusion that makes me feel all the more curious and empathetic, and all the more tempted to speculate.
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Share via Email Shadowy purposes … Kazuo Ishiguro. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian The Unconsoled is a difficult, perplexing and uniquely challenging book. There are also moments of exquisite comedy. Then again, this position is also potentially interesting; partly because this is a book with such a high dropout rate that I now know as much as some readers ever will, and partly because at this stage I have so many questions in common with Ryder.
I currently have the same problem as the narrator while he moves through the story. But this is a confusion that makes me feel all the more curious and empathetic, and all the more tempted to speculate. Over to John Self: 1. One thing I can say about stress, however, is how effectively the reader also experiences it. Meanwhile, if Ryder is baffled by the world around him in the novel, so are we.
If he is troubled that he keeps getting distracted and is never able to bring anything to the conclusion he intends, so are we.
Similarly, if Ryder is forever feeling that moments of respite and reflection are snatched away from him, so are we. On the subject of these questions, meanwhile, it is astonishingly frustrating to have so many apparent clues set in front of us — and then snatched away. There is a tantalising suggestion on page one that the porter does not recognise Ryder — that the whole confusion of the book might have arisen from a case of mistaken identity. Like I say - stressful.
I can understand why people might be irritated to feel that an author is toying with them. Sequences which allow Ryder to — say — walk into one place miles away from his hotel, through a room, out the back and into his hotel again.
I recommended it to everyone I knew who read literary fiction, but they all hated it and never got past the first couple of chapters. A working title was Piano Dreams … Ishiguro says that he wanted to explore how memory works in a way similar to dream. Is the narrative a dream? The lack of guiding logic already mentioned seems to me to follow a particularly dreamlike pattern.
Also, throughout the book so far, things blur in and out of focus, faces emerge from nowhere and recede back into the mist, time is out of joint, things that seem pressingly urgent can be immediately forgotten … So yes, it feels like reading a dream. Does this help comprehension of what is undoubtedly a somewhat knotty book? Is comprehension in the usual narrative sense even important?
Do the rooms in the hotel represent the chambers of his mind? Are the conversations he has with a small sweet boy called Boris something to do with a family he has lost in the real world?
Are his attempts to remember phone conversations memories within memories? Similarly, I suppose you could see, for instance, a character called Brodsky, who is an alcoholic conductor, as an older version of Ryder who has gone to seed and squandered his talent. Little boy lost Boris might conceivably be the little boy lost in all of us … And yet, at the moment, this idea leaves me more confused than ever before.
Can all these people represent Ryder? In which case why go to so much trouble introducing them and giving them apparently distinct personalities? How, for instance, can a woman he meets inspecting tickets on a tram, who turns out to have been a childhood friend and is annoyed that he failed to show up for a dinner, also be Ryder?
What I am interested in is whether I will feel differently by the time I reach the end. Will it start making sense? Will there be any answers at all? Will it even be worth trying to ask questions about the book as a unified whole rather than just taking each page at face value, one at a time?
The Unconsoled deals in destruction and disappointment
It also just so happens that I read Ishiguro in what you might call "increasing order of weirdness," and I had heard that this is indeed his weirdest book. Of course, many of its strange qualities have been explored before. The surreality, the language of dreams and nightmares in which the protagonist tries in vain to accomplish simple tasks, the sudden and confusing shifts in setting and perspective, the garbled rationale and bizarre priorities of the natives in a strangely familiar city: all of these elements have been combined and recombined to create the "Kafkaesque" genre. Ishiguro really captures the shifting sands of perception that mark a dreamlike consciousness. At the same time, he manages to maintain cohesion within the narrative - just barely, at times, but he manages it. Appropriately, then, the main character of The Unconsoled IS a performer: Ryder, a famous English pianist revisiting a city which may or may not already be familiar to him, where he is supposed to give a performance which may or may not be very important in a variety of ways. Although it is at first implied that they have just met, they are soon having conversations that suggest a long history of mutual resentments and shared hopes, attacking and reassuring each other in a manner reminiscent of a dysfunctional long-term relationship.
The settings, etc. I tend to write the same book over and over, or at least, I take the same subject I took last time out and refine it, or do a slightly different take on it. It occurred to me there were other very good ways to waste your life — especially in the personal arena. So Remains was Artist Plus. Stevens wastes both his vocational life and his love life. I set it in England, not Japan, and everyone talked about a huge leap. But it was a remake, or at least, a refinement of the earlier book.