Sunday, 12 September 2010

Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro

I have recently been concentrating on writing short stories. I have several sparkling beginnings and an equivalent amount of flat ends.

So, in the interests of learning of such rudiments as structure and what have you, I have been reading various anthologies. The one collection I could not put down was Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuro Ishiguro. It consists of five stories linked by the common theme of music. Occasionally the same character, or reference to such, crops up within the stories.


The first, Crooner, takes place in Venice, where 'one of the 'gypsies”, an outsider, a Hungarian guitarist by the name of Janeck, plays in various bands around St. Marks Square. One day, he spots an American crooner of the past, Tony Gardner, a favourite of his mother and one of the greats.

The two meet and Janeck is introduced to Gardner's wife, Lindy. Their relationship, that of Gardner and is wife, is ambivalent at this stage. When Lindy leaves, Gardner outlines a plan he has in mind for this special trip he and his wife have made, and that is that Janeck should accompany him on guitar while he, Gardner, surprises his wife with a serenade made from a gondola while she is in her hotel room later that evening. Janeck is stunned by the romance of these older people.

As the story develops, we learn how Lindy plotted and planned with other girls in an LA café to ensnare a star. First there was a marriage to another singer, but one in a minor league, who was swiftly divorced once she had caught the eye of the premier league player, Gardner. It was a business Gardner accepted. However, over the years they had fallen in love and now he wanted to serenade her. Yet, as they circle in a gondola poled by a viperous gondolier already known to Janeck for his Janus-faced behaviour, one opinion to his face, another behind his back, waiting for a light to appear in Lindy's room, Gardner appears surprisingly gloomy.

At last a light appears yet still Gardner seems reluctant. Eventually, he starts to sing and Lindy, attracted by the sound, appears at the window. She does not swoon or smile but seems irritated by his attentions. She retreats from the window as Gardner sings a song of particular romantic significance to the two. As he ends his third and final song, weeping can be heard from the room.

Janeck is very confused until Gardner elucidates. Though they are both very much in love, he is making a comeback and needs a younger wife to suit his new image. So they are separating and this is the swansong.


I found this the most difficult of all the stories. I could not accept the premise until I dwelt on Ishiguro's elaboration of the gondolier character. It then occurred to me he is the cousin of Iago, and, of course, the setting is Venice, and there is a murder of sorts – Killing me softly with his song –  in the final scene of the spouse by her love-stricken husband. Moreover, marriages for status and power have always been arranged, one way or another, back to the Bard's day and before.

I may have spoiled the story, but I cannot possibly have spoiled your enjoyment of reading Ishiguro's words. What strikes me forcibly about his writing is the translucence of his language. There is no showing off, no reaching for the dictionary, just simple prose, all the more elegant for its simplicity.

I see I have not written a jot about structure and what I have learned. One for a later date, perhaps.

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