Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall is Kazuo Ishiguro's first collection of short stories after six successful novels. His latest book is made up of a quintet of short stories—Crooner, Come Rain or Come Shine, Malvern Hills, Nocturne and Cellists—where he explores love, music and the passing of time as dreams and relationships might start getting dusty.

Ishiguro, also a guitarist and a former chorister, was winner of the Booker Prize for novel-turned-film, The Remains of the Day. The famed author has this characteristic charm—wistful and yet captivatingly whimsical. And in this latest book, titled Nocturnes, the same charm is as evident and the book is just as its name suggests—dreamy with a touch of melancholy and surely pensive. Each of the five stories would be best described as slices of life with no dramatic resolution; I loved the fact that it was as if we were eavesdropping on their conversation and then left pondering what might become of them.

The first story, Crooner, kicks off with Janeck, a Polish guitarist who feels sorry for himself and dwells on the monotony of his life such as playing the Godfather nine times in a single afternoon. This self-indulgence was, however, soon broken when he spots his mom's favourite but aging American singer Tony Gardner. To his surprise, Janeck is invited to assist Gardner in serenading his wife from a gondola beneath her window. But unbeknown to him, it is a farewell gesture from the man to his soon-to-be ex-wife.

However, it was the last story, Cellists, that especially struck a chord with me. Hungarian musician Tibor meets enigmatic American woman who claims to be a virtuoso. After much ado about nothing, he realises she does not even play the cell but believes she could do so extremely well and was merely "protecting her unwrapped talent". The story ends with the narrator who spots Tibor at a cafe they used to work together. Tibor's dressing and actions suggests that like the many that had great dreams, he ultimately had to settle for less—a scenerio that might be familiar with many jaded dreamers like myself. 

In summary, the book chronicles ordinary and even familiar moments of bittersweetness, regret and disappointments with open endings aptly done. Perhaps it is because they are so ordinary and could well have happened to any of us, that book critic, David Sexton, would say: "These stories come up on you quietly, but then haunt you for days." Readers will find Ishiguro's stories lingering in your head just like a music note.

Related link: Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro wiki, Kazuo Ishiguro wiki

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