The words I want to use to describe Kazuo Ishiguro’s short story collection Nocturnes are only forgivable within the confines of a Jane Austin novel. I’m just going to barf them onto the screen and get it over with: Wonderful. Splendid. Delightful.
There are five stories, each with a musical premise. They either star musicians or, in one case, music aficionados.
The first is the story of a guitar player who is asked by an aging famous singer to help serenade his wife from a gondolier outside of her hotel room window. What the guitar player mistakes for a romantic gesture is actually something else.
In another, a hapless teacher visits old married friends from college. Years ago, he and the wife had a shared interest in music. The couple’s relationship is rocky, and the husband hopes to use ol’ hapless as a short yardstick to favorably measure his failings against. At some point the teacher pulls a move from “Fatal Attraction” on some footware, and rips apart couch cushions with his teeth.
It is as cringe-worthy as it is playful and silly.
In another, an undiscovered saxophone player’s wife leaves him for a much wealthier man who feels badly about it and in turn offers the sax player the opportunity to get his face reconstructed into something more appealing with the hope that musician will get noticed if he is more attractive.? There is a great moment when the sax player is found forearm deep in a turkey.
In the final story, a young cello player meets a woman who tutors him through his music. She’s is a self-described virtuoso. Yet he has never seen her play. And when he finally peeks around her hotel room for evidence of a cello, he doesn’t find one. Hmm …
Ishiguro is just so dang good. He writes so quietly and seamlessly and with such subtlety. And when he’s not being subtle, it’s like he purposely takes your face and rubs it into a mound of what he is saying. But not aggressively. There is no bruising. Not to mention that he has good humor. This is the ultimate in escapist literature. Reading it feels like a really good sigh.