From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day, here is a novel that is at once a gripping psychological mystery, a wicked satire of the cult of art, and a poignant character study of a man whose public life has accelerated beyond his control.
The setting is a nameless Central European city where Ryder, a renowned pianist, has come to give the most important performance of his life. Instead, he finds himself diverted on a series of cryptic and infuriating errands that nevertheless provide him with vital clues to his own past. In The Unconsoled Ishiguro creates a work that is itself a virtuoso performance, strange, haunting, and resonant with humanity and wit.
|Publisher:||Tantor Media, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Kazuo Ishiguro is the 2017 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. His work has been translated into more than forty languages. Both The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go have sold more than 1 million copies, and both were adapted into highly acclaimed films.
Simon Vance, a former BBC Radio presenter and newsreader, is a full-time actor who has appeared on both stage and television. He has recorded over eight hundred audiobooks and has earned five coveted Audie Awards, and he has won fifty-seven Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which has named him a Golden Voice.
Read an Excerpt
The taxi driver seemed embarrassed to find there was no one-not even a clerk behind the reception desk-waiting to welcome me. He wandered across the deserted lobby, perhaps hoping to discover a staff member concealed behind one of the plants or armchairs. Eventually he put my suitcases down beside the elevator doors and, mumbling some excuse, took his leave of me.
The lobby was reasonably spacious, allowing several coffee tables to be spread around it with no sense of crowding. But the ceiling was low and had a definite sag, creating a slightly claustrophobic mood, and despite the sunshine outside the light was gloomy. Only near the reception desk was there a bright streak of sun on the wall, illuminating an area of dark wood panelling and a rack of magazines in German, French and English. I could see also a small silver bell on the reception desk and was about to go over to shake it when a door opened somewhere behind me and a young man in uniform appeared.
'Good afternoon, sir,' he said tiredly and, going behind the reception desk, began the registration procedures. Although he did mumble an apology for his absence, his manner remained for a time distinctly off-hand. As soon as I mentioned my name, however, he gave a start and straightened himself.
'Mr Ryder, I'm so sorry I didn't recognise you. Mr Hoffman, the manager, he was very much wanting to welcome you personally. But just now, unfortunately, he's had to go to an important meeting.'
'That's perfectly all right. I'll look forward to meeting him later on.'
The desk clerk hurried on through the registration forms, all the while muttering about how annoyed the manager would be to havemissed my arrival. He twice mentioned how the preparations for 'Thursday night' were putting the latter under unusual pressure, keeping him away from the hotel far more than was usual. I simply nodded, unable to summon the energy to enquire into the precise nature of 'Thursday night'.
'Oh, and Mr Brodsky's been doing splendidly today,' the desk clerk said, brightening. 'Really splendidly. This morning he rehearsed that orchestra for four hours non-stop. And listen to him now! Still hard at it, working things out by himself.'
He indicated the rear of the lobby. Only then did I become aware that a piano was being played somewhere in the building, just audible above the muffled noise of the traffic outside. I raised my head and listened more closely. Someone was playing a single short phrase-it was from the second movement of Mullery's Verticality-over and over in a slow, preoccupied manner.
'Of course, if the manager were here,' the desk clerk was saying, 'he might well have brought Mr Brodsky out to meet you. But I'm not sure . . .' He gave a laugh. 'I'm not sure if I should disturb him. You see, if he's deep in concentration . . .'
'Of course, of course. Another time.'
'If the manager were here . . .' He trailed off and laughed again. Then leaning forward, he said in a low voice: 'Do you know, sir, some guests have had the nerve to complain? About our closing off the drawing room like this each time Mr Brodsky requires the piano? It's amazing how some people think! Two different guests actually complained to Mr Hoffman yesterday You can be sure, they were very quickly put in their place.'
'I'm sure they were. Brodsky, you say.' I thought about the name, but it meant nothing to me. Then I caught the desk clerk watching me with a puzzled look and said quickly: 'Yes, yes. I'll look forward to meeting Mr Brodsky in good time.'
'If only the manager were here, sir.'
'Please don't worry. Now if that's all, I'd very much appreciate . . .'
'Of course, sir. You must be very tired after such a long journey. Here's your key. Gustav over there will show you to your room.'
I looked behind me and saw that an elderly porter was waiting across the lobby. He was standing in front of the open elevator, staring into its interior with a preoccupied air. He gave a start as I came walking up to him. He then picked up my suitcases and hurried into the elevator after me.
As we began our ascent, the elderly porter continued to hold on to both suitcases and I could see him growing red with the effort. The cases were both very heavy and a serious concern that he might pass out before me led me to say:
'You know, you really ought to put those down.'
'I'm glad you mention it, sir,' he said, and his voice betrayed surprisingly little of the physical effort he was expending. 'When I first started in this profession, very many years ago now, I used to place the bags on the floor. Pick them up only when I absolutely needed to. When in motion, so to speak. In fact, for the first fifteen years of working here, I have to say I used that method. It's one that many of the younger porters in this town still employ. But you won't find me doing anything of that sort now. Besides, sir, we're not going up far.'
We continued our ascent in silence. Then I said:
'So you've worked in this hotel for some time.'
'Twenty-seven years now, sir. I've seen plenty here in that time. But of course, this hotel was standing long before I ever got here. Frederick the Great is believed to have stayed a night here in the eighteenth century, and by all accounts it was a long-established inn even then. Oh yes, there have been events here of great historic interest over the years. Some time when you're not so tired, sir, I'd be happy to relate a few of these things to you.'
'But you were telling me,' I said, 'why you consider it a mistake to place luggage on the floor.'
'Ah yes,' the porter said. 'Now that's an interesting point. You see, sir, as you can imagine, in a town of this sort, there are many hotels. This means that many people in this town have at some point or other tried their hand at portering. Many people here seem to think they can simply put on a uniform and then that will be it, they'll be able to do the job. It's a delusion that's been particularly nurtured in this town. Call it a local myth, if you will. And I'll readily confess, there was a time when I unthinkingly subscribed to it myself. Then once-oh, it was many years ago now-my wife and I took a short holiday We went to Switzerland, to Lucerne. My wife has passed away now, sir, but whenever I think of her I remember our short holiday. It's very beautiful there by the lake. No doubt you know it. We took some lovely boat rides after breakfast. Well, to return to my point, during that holiday I observed that people in that town didn't make the same sorts of assumptions about their porters as people here do. How can I put it, sir? There was much greater respect paid to porters there. The best ones were figures of some renown and had the leading hotels fighting for their services. I must say it opened my eyes. But in this town, well, there's been this idea for many many years. In fact there are days when I wonder if it can ever be eradicated. Now I'm not saying people here are in any way rude to us. Far from it, I've always been treated with politeness and consideration here. But, you see, sir, there's always this idea that anyone could do this job if they took it into their heads, if the fancy just took them. I suppose it's because everyone in this town at some point has had the experience of carrying luggage from place to place. Because they've done that, they assume being a hotel porter is just an extension of it. I've had people over the years, sir, in this very elevator, who've said to me: "I might give up what I'm doing one of these days and take up portering." Oh yes. Well, sir, one day-it wasn't long after our short holiday in Lucerne-I had one of our leading city councillors say more or less those exact words to me. "I'd like to do that one of these days," he said to me, indicating the bags. "That's the life for me. Not a care in the world." I suppose he was trying to be kind, sir. Implying I was to be envied. That was when I was younger, sir, I didn't then hold the bags, I had them on the floor, here in this very elevator, and I suppose in those days I might have looked a bit that way. You know, carefree, as the gentleman implied. Well, I tell you, sir, that was the last straw. I don't mean the gentleman's words made me so angry in themselves. But when he said that to me, well, things sort of fell into place. Things I'd been thinking about for some time. And as I explained to you, sir, I was fresh from our short holiday in Lucerne where I'd got some perspective. And I thought to myself, well, it's high time porters in this town set about changing the attitude prevalent here. You see, sir, I'd seen something different in Lucerne, and I felt, well, it really wasn't good enough, what went on here. So I thought hard about it and decided on a number of measures I would personally take. Of course, even then, I probably knew how difficult it would be. I think I may have realised all those years ago that it was perhaps already too late for my own generation. That things had gone too far. But I thought, well, even if I could do my part and change things just a little, it would at least make it easier for those who came after me. So I adopted my measures, sir, and I've stuck to them, ever since that day the city councillor said what he did. And I'm proud to say a number of other porters in this town followed my lead. That's not to say they adopted precisely the same measures I did. But let's say their measures were, well, compatible.'
'I see. And one of your measures was not to put down the suitcases but to continue to hold them.'
'Exactly, sir, you've followed my gist very well. Of course, I have to say, when I took on these rules for myself, I was much younger and stronger, and I suppose I didn't really calculate for my growing weaker with age. It's funny, sir, but you don't. The other porters have said similar things. All the same, we all try to keep to our old resolutions. We've become a pretty close-knit group over the years, twelve of us, we're what's left of the ones who tried to change things all those years ago. If I were to go back on anything now, sir, I'd feel I was letting down the others. And if any of them were to go back on any of their old rules, I'd feel the same way. Because there's no doubt about it, some progress has been made in this town. There's a very long way to go yet, that's true, but we've often talked it over-we meet every Sunday afternoon at the Hungarian Caf? in the Old Town, you could come and join us, you'd be a most welcome guest, sir-well, we've often discussed these things and each of us agrees, without a doubt, there have been significant improvements in the attitude towards us in this town. The younger ones who came after us, of course, they take it all for granted. But our group at the Hungarian Caf?, we know we've made a difference, even if it's a small one. You'd be very welcome to join us, sir. I would happily introduce you to the group. We're not nearly as formal as we once were and it's been understood for some time that in special circumstances, guests can be introduced to our table. And it's very pleasant at this time of the year with this gentle sunshine in the afternoons. We have our table in the shade of the awning, looking across the Old Square. It's very pleasant, sir, I'm sure you'll like it. But to return to what I was saying, we've been discussing this topic a lot at the Hungarian Caf?. I mean about these old resolutions we each made all those years ago. You see, none of us thought about what would happen when we got older. I suppose we were so involved in our work, we thought of things only on a day to day basis. Or perhaps we underestimated how long it would take to change these deeply ingrained attitudes. But there you are, sir. I'm now the age I am and every year it gets harder.'
The porter paused for a moment and, despite the physical strain he was under, seemed to get lost in his thoughts. Then he said:
'I should be honest with you, sir. It's only fair. When I was younger, when I first made these rules for myself, I would always carry up to three suitcases, however large or heavy. If a guest had a fourth, I'd put that one on the floor. But three, I could always manage. Well, the truth is, sir, four years ago I had a period of ill-health, and I was finding things difficult, and so we discussed it at the Hungarian Caf?. Well, in the end, my colleagues all agreed there was no need for me to be so strict on myself. After all, they said to me, all that's required is to impress on the guests something of the true nature of our work. Two bags or three, the effect would be much the same. I should reduce my minimum to two suitcases and no harm would be done. I accepted what they said, sir, but I know it's not quite the truth. I can see it doesn't have nearly the same effect when people look at me. The difference between seeing a porter laden with two bags and seeing one laden with three, you must admit, sir, even to the least practised eye, the effect is considerably different. I know that, sir, and I don't mind telling you it's painful for me to accept. But just to return to my point. I hope you see now why I don't wish to put down your bags. You have only two. At least for a few more years, two will be within my powers.'
'Well, it's all very commendable,' I said. 'You've certainly created the desired impact on me.'
'I'd like you to know, sir, I'm not the only one who's had to make changes. We discuss these things all the time at the Hungarian Caf? and the truth is, each one of us has had to make some changes. But I wouldn't have you think we're allowing each other's standards to slip. If we did that, all our efforts over these years would be for nothing. We would rapidly become a laughing stock. Passers-by would mock us when they saw us gathered at our table on Sunday afternoons. Oh no, sir, we remain very strict with each other and, as I'm sure Miss Hilde will vouch, the community has come to respect our Sunday gatherings. As I say, sir, you'd be most welcome to join us. Both the caf? and the square are exceptionally pleasant on these sunny afternoons. And sometimes the caf? proprietor will arrange for gypsy violinists to play in the square. The proprietor himself, sir, has the greatest respect for us. The caf? isn't large, but he'll always ensure there's plenty of room for us to sit around our table in comfort. Even when the rest of the caf? is extremely busy, the proprietor will see to it we don't get crowded out or disturbed. Even on the busiest afternoons, if all of us around our table at one and the same time were to rotate our arms at full stretch, not one of us would make contact. That's how much the proprietor respects us, sir. I'm sure Miss Hilde will vouch for what I'm saying.'
Reading Group Guide
1. One of the first things we learn about this novel's protagonist is that he is at least partly amnesiac. What role does Ryder's amnesia play in The Unconsoled? How does it determine his behavior? Why doesn't he ask other characters to fill in the gaps in his memory, and what complications arise from this?
2. In the course of the novel, Ryder gradually recovers part of his memory. When and how does this happen? How is Ryder changed by the restoration of his memory? Does he want to remember? The recollection of a forgotten past plays an important role in classical Greek tragedies, such as in Sophocles's Oedipus, where it is called anagnoresis. In what ways does Ryder resemble -or differ from- classical tragic heroes?
3. If Ryder is amnesiac, he is also occasionally omniscient. While riding with Stephan Hoffman, for example, Ryder vicariously recalls an incident in which the young man disappointed his mother [pp. 65-71]. Later he seems to read the minds of both Miss Collins [pp. 320-327] and her former husband Leo Brodsky [pp. 359-361] as each recalls the origins of their marital rupture. What are we to make of Ryder's moments of omniscience? Why do the other characters seem unsurprised by his powers? How is Ryder's preternatural grasp of other people's pasts related to his inability to remember his own?
4. From the moment of his arrival, Ryder discovers that other people, many of them perfect strangers, know a great deal about him. What might account for these characters' familiarity with Ryder's affairs? Is the knowledge these characters possess about Ryder actually trustworthy?
5. With its narrow streets, gemütlich Old Town, and officious,Teutonically named citizens, the town in which Ryder finds himself might be any small city in Germany or Austria. Yet at times it also resembles -or actually becomes- the England where Ryder grew up. Then, too, space and time in this setting are oddly distorted. A broom closet opens onto the kitchen of a restaurant that should be miles away; journeys that seem to take hours last only a few moments. Why might Ishiguro have chosen to make his setting both realistic and surreal? Does the book's hybrid environment have a counterpart in its narrative or style? Are there moments when the novel's characters behave logically and others when they act more like figures in a dream?
6. Why does the porter insist on carrying more bags than he can comfortably handle [pp. 5-8], an insistence that is ritually enacted in the dance that eventually kills him [pp. 396-407, 421-425, 525-527]? What other characters in this novel take on onerous burdens? For what reasons and with what results?
7. Gustav asks Ryder to act as a go-between between him and his daughter Sophie, with whom he maintains a cordial but utterly silent relationship [pp. 27-30]. What are the origins of their silence? Where else in The Unconsoled do we encounter families whose members have ceased to communicate? How do the characters in this book justify their silence toward people they claim to love? Has Ryder done the same thing? And has he, too, been a victim of other people's silence?
8. Gustav is only the first person in this novel to ask something of its protagonist. What kinds of things is Ryder asked to do? Which of these requests has any relation to Ryder's actual abilities? Why does he keep agreeing to them? At what points in the book does he refuse a request, and with what outcome?
9. Ryder's attempt at defending Fiona Roberts before her snobbish neighbors fails when Ryder is unable to speak [pp. 228-241]. On the other hand, his appearance at the bizarre memorial for Brodsky's dog [pp. 135-147] should be a fiasco, since Ryder accidentally exposes himself before the guests, yet is received with enthusiasm [p. 155]. How successful is Ryder at meeting other people's expectations? Does Ryder succeed at his largest task, the rehabilitation of Brodsky and the redemption of the city? What factors account for Ryder's failures, as well as for his hosts' habit of perceiving those failures as triumphs?
10. Underlying all these disparate demands, Ryder intuits a greater, collective one: that he somehow bring order to a "situation" teetering on the edge of chaos and rescue the city from its unspecified crisis. Are Ryder's perceptions accurate? Is this artist really supposed to be a savior? Or is it equally possible that Ryder is merely inflating the normal demands made on celebrities into a megalomaniac mission of salvation?
11. What sort of requests do Sophie and Boris make of Ryder? How does he respond? Why is he so angry at Sophie, whom he inwardly accuses of bringing "chaos" into his life [pp. 179, 243, 289]? What happens on those occasions when he tries to show affection to the little boy? How has Ryder's behavior affected these characters?
12. Both Ryder and Sophie repeatedly disappoint each other. Sophie is always apologizing for her failure to find a new home [pp. 34, 224]. Ryder is continually justifying his absences [pp. 37, 258, 444]. Toward the novel's climax, even Boris is apologizing. What other characters in this book have disappointed the people closest to them? How do they treat their trespasses and the failures of their spouses, parents, and children? Is any of them an accurate judge of his or her own conduct? And does any of Ishiguro's characters make an honest attempt to redeem the emotional damage that he or she has done?
13. Boris is obsessed with a toy soccer player called Number Nine [pp. 40-42, 162, 206-216]. Ryder, too, is preoccupied with football players [pp. 161-162] and as a child used to play with toy soldiers [pp. 34, 261]. In what other ways do these two resemble each other, and how does this resemblance become more pronounced as the novel progresses? In what ways is Boris's childhood a reprise of what we know of Ryder's?
14. From the moment of his arrival, Ryder finds bits of England intruding into the landscape. His hotel room turns out to be a room from his childhood. Elsewhere he comes across his parents' car and his former friends Saunders, Parkhurst, and Fiona Roberts. How does Ryder feel about the apparitions from his past? How is he changed by his encounters with them? How do these episodes in turn change the reader's perception of the protagonist? What, in particular, do we learn about Ryder's parents, whose arrival in town is eagerly anticipated throughout the book?
15. None of Ryder's hosts is more solicitous than Hoffman. He fawns over the pianist elaborately and is so fearful that Ryder's room may be inadequate that he not only moves him to better quarters but has the old ones demolished [pp. 120-122, 156]. Yet behind the obsequiousness is a hint of menace. Hoffman becomes enraged by Ryder's failure to look at his wife's albums [pp. 503-505]. And he is equally capable of rehabilitating the ruined Brodsky [pp. 56-60] and of ruining him once more when it suits his purposes [pp. 427-441]. How should we interpret the inconsistencies in this man's behavior? Is Hoffman's rage related to the guilt he feels toward his wife? What other characters in this novel are similarly divided, publicly composed while inwardly seething? Does Ishiguro suggest any collective origin for this split? How is this schism reflected in the novel's language?
16. In the course of his movements, Ryder meets three other musicians. One, Stephan Hoffman, has yet to prove himself but is inwardly convinced of his mediocrity. Another, Christoff, was once revered by the townspeople but has now fallen into disfavor. A third, Brodsky, is a drunken wreck who has been dredged from the gutter and is now being touted as the town's salvation. Which of these musicians may be said to be a genuine artist, and how is his art received? In what ways does Ryder resemble each of them, and which of them is he most afraid of resembling?
17. What is the significance of Brodsky's wound? Is he just referring to his missing leg or to an older and more grievous injury? What other characters are similarly wounded? Is Brodsky correct in seeing both music and love as mere "consolations" for unhealed injuries [p. 313]? How do Ryder's ideas about music correspond to Brodsky's?
18. Although Brodsky initially seems pathetic, he gradually rises to a stature that is at once tragic and heroic. Of all the novel's characters, only he is capable of expressing tenderness and desire directly (and even obscenely). Yet by the novel's end he has collapsed into drunkenness once more, and his estranged wife has accused him of ruining both their lives: "You'd destroy it all, you'd destroy everything, pull it all down around you just as you did before. And all because of that wound. Me, the music, we're neither of us anything more to you than mistresses you seek consolation from. You'll always go back to your one real love. To that wound!" [p. 498]. Do we agree with her? If hers are the truest words spoken in this novel, how are we meant to judge not only Brodsky, but all the other characters who have devoted their lives to high culture? Is the town's artistic obsession genuine? Has art been the cure for these people's soul-sickness or its cause?
19. What changes take place in the course of this novel? How is the Ryder of the novel's end different from the one who strode confidently into the hotel at its beginning? Which of the book's other characters have been transformed? How does The Unconsoled change the perceptions of the reader?
20. Why might Kazuo Ishiguro have made this book's protagonist a man who cannot remember? What does he achieve by making Ryder both a limited first-person narrator and an omniscient third-person narrator? To what extent can we trust this man's perceptions? What role does the resulting uncertainty play in our experience of the book as a whole?
21. Is it possible to read The Unconsoled as Ryder's dream? If so, how does the author succeed in turning the notoriously idiosyncratic material of dreams into something universal?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It's a pretty good indication that I'm not enjoying a book when it takes me 9 days to read the last 100 pages, even taking into account a desire to savor (when I'm lucky) the wondrous synthesis of ideas as the author draws the storyline to a close. Perhaps it is unwise to read reviews that others have written about a book before you write your own. What I noticed was that The Unconsoled was frequently described as Kafka-esque, or surreal. I am embarrassed to admit to the world (perhaps I don't have any readers) that I have never read anything by Kafka and didn't see the movie with Jeremy Irons. But I have watched Joe's Apartment and Being John Malkovich, and I was a huge fan of Twin Peaks, so I think I have a grasp of the terminology. And, yes, I suppose it is accurate to say that The Unconsoled is surreal. A large part of this derives from Ishiguro's bending of space throughout the novel. Places that seem far removed from one another turn out to be easily accessed through a series of narrow passages or underground tunnels, much like I imagine mazelike corriders beneath DisneyWorld (itself a rather surreal space). While a number of reviewers use this feature to bolster their argument that the novel represents a dream, it most reminded me of how individuals suffering from dementia attempt to rationalize their disorientation. Once I made this connection, I read the remainder of the book in the context of Ryder (a concert pianist called to an unnamed Eastern European city to assist with an artistic crisis) as an individual with dementia. He is, like those suffering from dementia, apathetic toward others and seemingly unconcerned by how his behavior might affect them. A diagnosis of dementia would also explain his abilities to know what people are thinking and what has occurred before he enters a room. He is delusional. But his delusions serve a functional purpose in that they help him fill in the blanks of his increasingly porous memory. Ryder displays other symptoms of dementia, including a lack of attention to personal appearance (he attends a number of functions in his dressing gown), impaired judgment (he leaves his son alone for hours at a cafe), disrupted sleep cycle, attentional deficits, and impulsivity. I saw the novel as actually taking place in a long-term care facility. Ryder just doesn't where he is. And since he is the narrator, neither does the reader. He doesn't initially recognize his family. Iindeed, he frequently refers to himself as an outsider and uses this self description as an excuse for both his lack of recognition of those who know him and his distant behavior. People he knew growing up England keep making appearances which would be unlikely if he actually were visiting an unfamiliar city. Following this logic, characters like Gustav (an elderly porter at the hotel who is also his wife's father) and Stephan (the hotel manager's son and a aspiring pianist himself) can be viewed as fellow residents in the institution, while Miss Collins (the resident therapist) and Mr. Hoffman (the hotel manager) are members of the staff. While my interpretation of the novel appealed to me more than that of other reviewers, I just didn't care what happened in the end. Jim Crace has said that all of his novels are metaphors for life in Birmingham, England, but I also find their facades beautiful and intricate and pleasurable. The metaphor isn't necessary to the enjoyment or understanding of the story. I honestly didn't like The Unconsoled until I came upon a metaphor that made the novel work for me, and by then I was so exhausted by it that I had no inclination to start over from the beginning to see if this insight would increase my enjoyment. But then maybe I have no appreciation of the role of art in society. As Ryder has warned me, 'One should not, in any case, attempt to make a virtue out of one's limitations' (p. 201). After all, this book was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel Award and
Ishiguro creates a novel that moves with the pace and logic of a dream. You won't like this book if you like a steady, uncomplicated plot and reliable characters. But if you like the surreal, like books that force you accept oddity, and revel in the uncertain and bizarre and comically grotesque, this may be the book for you. This reviewer also likes House of Leaves by Danielewski, Atwood's Mad Adam series, other works by Ishiguro, Murakami's 1Q84.
Too long, self-indulgent. I get it. But I am not going to finish it because, so far, it is simply more of the same. Verbosity is not a crime, but it is when it shows no sign at all of getting to the point. Ishiguro needs an editor.
Too much the product of creative writing courses, Ishiguro spins a purposeless prose - so tightly constrained even in its Kafkaesque fantasy (where ordinary boundaries of time and space dissolve). Churning through over 500 pages left me decidedly 'unconsoled'.
I'm glad so many reviewers have enjoyed this novel. I've just finished it and have regraded it as a four rather than a three star read. It was, as people have already said, full of pathos and humour (Bruno was "the greatest dog of his generation!")and sucked me deeper and deeper into Ryder's world with every page, from the 'Is he dreaming? He must be dreaming!' feeling of the first chapter, through to not wanting him to wake and the dream to end at the finish. This is the second Ishiguro I've read, and like the previous one (Remains of the Day) it's left me wanting to read it again, immediately. Perhaps I'll give it five stars next time.
There was something that disturbed me as I read this novel, and I didn¿t put my finger on it until I was almost done. Going into the final chapter, I realized that it felt like I was returning to a nightmare. The lives of the people, in particular the main character Ryder, feel like nightmares ¿ the kind where you keep trying to accomplish something and just can¿t get there. This almost perfectly sums up Ryder. Whether the thing he is trying to do is the right thing or not, other things (much like that nightmare) get in the way.All that being said, I am still struggling with how to absorb this novel. As I read it, I kept getting impressions of other authors/novels. First it was Camus ¿ the protagonist who seems to let life make his decisions for him. Then it was Flann O¿Brien¿s ¿The Third Policeman¿ ¿ surreal situations that are just accepted (such as doors that seem to lead to rooms across the city, Ryder hearing conversations that were impossible for him to hear, and the description of ¿2001: A Space Odyssey¿ starring Clint Eastwood and Yul Brynner.) Finally, it was Carson McCuller¿s ¿The Heart is a Lonely Hunter¿ (and the last I read that was in high school, so this may not be accurate) ¿ the protagonist as the father confessor.If the preceding does not indicate there are various unusual things going on in this novel, nothing will. Yet, it is all engrossing. Ryder shows up in the city and is, for all intents and purposes, as tabula rasa as the reader. He knows he is there for a performance, but seems to have no other details. And, as events draw him further and further away from the expected course (as indicated above, he is always being drawn away from what he intends to do) we learn he is much more familiar with the city and its inhabitants than even he at first remembers. It is as though he has no knowledge of his past and only just remembers it at the same time we are discovering it. This might seem off-putting, but in the surreal world Ishiguro has built it almost seems to flow logically. (At least, as logically as anything is in this story.)There is a lot going for this story, but, by the end, I was getting tired of it all. These are disturbing people and, over time, they began to wear on me. By the end, I really felt ambivalent to all of them and had lost much of my desire to see how it all ended. But those same people are still haunting me. And, as I previously mentioned, I¿m still absorbing what occurred in this book. I have a feeling my appreciation for this book will grow over time.
The Unconsoled plunges the reader into an off-kilter, dreamlike world that is like a combination of Alice in Wonderland, Flann O¿Brien¿s The Third Policeman and something from Kafka. As the book opens, a famous concert pianist named Ryder is arriving at his hotel in an unnamed European city, scheduled to perform in a couple of days. Soon everyone he meets is confessing personal details about their lives to Ryder and asking him for one presumptuous favor after another, all of which he agrees to do. These favors lead him on a surreal journey around the city and to more encounters and more favors asked.Space and time seem distorted in this city. The landscape abruptly shifts from urban to rural, from busy streets to deserted ones. Buildings that were far apart turn out to be connected to each other. Time passes either too quickly or too slowly. All of this Ryder accepts without much protest or confusion. In fact, he seems to suffer from a strange form of amnesia, which makes him forget important people in his life until he illogically encounters them all in this same city. At the same time, Ryder seems to know things about people that he shouldn¿t and witnesses conversations where he is not actually present.My best explanation for all this is that the story actually represents all of Ryder¿s life, compressed into three days and melded together in the way that memories become entangled and combined. This would explain why Ryder is struck by childhood memories at times, and why he keeps encountering people from various times in his life. Indeed, three of the main characters could be seen as Ryder himself at different life stages: the young boy Boris, struggling to deal with his parents¿ strained relationship; the young man Stephan, just starting out as a pianist but unable to secure the approval of his parents; and the old man Brodsky, at the end of a failed musical career. These characters all struggle, in various ways, with the issues that seem to preoccupy Ryder but which he cannot resolve: issues with his parents, who he continually looks for but who never appear; with a failed relationship, represented both by Boris¿s mother Sophie and by Miss Collins, Brodsky¿s ex-wife, with whom he is trying to reunite; and the responsibility of celebrity in a city in the midst of some cultural crisis, whose citizens alternately despise Ryder and excessively adulate him.If we approach the book as if it is taking place in Ryder¿s mind, compressing a lifetime of memories into this rambling narrative journey, the more illogical sections begin to make a certain kind of sense. When Ryder knows things he shouldn¿t, it is because he makes assumptions about what people have said about him or what took place between them after the fact, concocting scenarios in his mind the way we all do, which may or may not be accurate. The vagaries of memory would also explain why the city¿s geography is ill-defined, why time passes oddly and even why, when Ryder goes to see one of his ¿favorite¿ movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, he remembers it as starring Yul Brynner and Clint Eastwood.The Unconsoled is a challenging book. Paragraphs often stretch over one or more pages, and the confusing narrative has the effect of leading the reader feeling off-center, as if the book is only our dream. There is no real plot, no satisfying conclusion and no explanation offered by the author for the unusual events. (Perhaps your interpretation may differ from mine; Ishiguro certainly does leave it up to us to each decide for ourselves what the book means.) But I think the effort required is worth it.
I became interested in this book and Kazuo Ishiguro because for three years I sat in my English teacher's classroom facing a poster advertising this book.When I finally got around to reading it I wasn't disappointed. The book is certainly an odd little read, given its surrealist elements, but somehow they all fit together and don't appear outlandish in the way that, say, Murakami's ideas sometimes do.The unraveling of events is a great ride and deciphering it all is particularly enjoyable; even if our main character isn't always the most likeable of persons. Despite the story's oddities I was very satisfied by the end and thought the novel an excellent read. I merely wish I had the time to re-read it and pick up more from the work.
When I first read, "Remains of the Day", I felt that I had just read the consummate English novel, the perfect pinnacle of a mountain with E.M. Forrester, among others, in its foundation. I felt The Unconsoled was also perfect, but in the way that it kept me maddeningly entwined in a dream that is insane. Insane in the way it provides a complete framework for the mind, yet no sense.I remain in awe of this book.
I bailed out about half-way through. Scene after scene in which nothing happens to move the narrative forward. Apparently the guy was in dream.
I just finished this book. I did not read the cover. I should have. I became so frustrated while reading it. I was telling a friend of mine about the bizarre time and distance problems, and the character's relationships to each other. She said that it sounds like a dream to me. It was revelation to me. I just read the cover and the other reviews here on Library Thing. Dreams all right, very very strange dreams. I can't believe that none of the reviewers mentioned the story of Gustav and his comrades in the Hungarian Cafe. This is a wonderful story of honor and courage. His friends and grandson saw him as invincible and he had so much courage and determination he did not let them down even though it led to his death. For me, Gustav is the hero of the story. That story made all of the pain and frustration of reading the book very worthwhile. It just too bad he had such a bad relationship with his daughter.
I really wanted to like this book, as it was recommended reading, but found that I really couldn't. It was undoubtedly very clever and certainly succeeded in evoking the dream-like feeling that the author was looking to achieve; however it was a dream that I wanted to end. The characters were mostly self-indulgent and often more than a little arrogant - the types of people that you try to avoid at dinner parties or in the neighourhood - and yet I was subjected to one tedious monologue after another. It didn't take long to realise that the likelihood of any resolution to the plotline, or explanation of the chaos, would not be forthcoming. So frustrating!
Having loved all his other novels, I finally got around to reading Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, and boy, was it strange and wonderful. I'd heard a vast array of opinions about this book, from "It is one of my top ten novels of all time" to "I loved it in a tense, uncomfortable way" to "it was an unmitigated train wreck." It's always intriguing to me when a book attracts such a wide variety of reactions, so I was looking forward to The Unconsoled for that reason. 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. There is something deeply satisfying about continuing my trajectory in this way, although at this point I doubt it's sustainable any longer - it would be quite a challenge to write a stranger book than this one.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. That said, this book does all of these things in a way that seems more tense and fluid than many other dreamlike stories I've read. 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. Sometimes the balance between the surreality and the sense of coherent character and voice, feels like a virtuosic juggling act that the performer is just barely pulling off; the audience is poised at the edge of their seats, transfixed at the intricate patterns traced by the juggled objects, and simultaneously nervous that they will, at any moment, come crashing down on the performer's head.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. One of the things I loved about this novel was the unique way that relationships slid in and out of focus; a few pages after seeking out the daughter of an acquaintance in a café, Ryder will gradually "remember" more and more details about her. 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. Ryder's own emotions and thought processes regarding the happiness and mental health of the woman's son, Boris, achieve a level of intensity more appropriate to a stepfather than a chance acquaintance, and Boris' own reactions to Ryder indicate a deep desire for approval reminiscent of a neglected child. At the same time, the closeness of Ryder's relationships with mother and child is never explicitly stated, and seems to wax and wane unpredictably throughout the novel.In a similar vein, the life stories of different characters start to mirror and imitate one another in eerie and intriguing ways. Having been drawn into a conversation with the hotel porter, Gustav, about how Gustav has fallen into the habit of never speaking directly to his daughter, Ryder gradually adopts the same practice toward Boris, his sometime-son. Witnessing the fraught relationship between the hotel manager Hoffman and his son Stephan either suggests to or reminds Ryder of his own nebulous connection with his parents, who may or may not be arriving in the unnamed city to hear him play the piano for the first time in many years. The reader is never sure the extent to which the conversations and stories going on around Ryde
Lucid and addictive prose unfolds the wobbling, shimmering dream of a man who has lost control of his public life, and by extension his image and identity. Yes, this incredible novel is about the relationship of the individual to society, the nature and value of culture, and a mute attempt to remedy a pervasive but ineffable existential crisis; it's all of this, but what I'm surprised more people don't mention is that it's absolutely hilarious in places. Ishiguro nails the comedy of manners flawlessly, in a fashion both modern and timeless."An ox, an ox, an ox!"The first Ishiguro I've read. Close to perfection.
Disclaimer: I can vouch you will like The Unconsoled even more if you like When We Were Orphans. While Kazuo Ishiguro's latest release has weathered a gale of bashing reviews, The Unconsoled, released in 1995, seemed somehow overlooked by readers. If you do not like "When We Were Orphans", please do the author a favor and don't even touch the book, let alone making bashing comments on it. This book can be very frustrating.Keep this question in mind: Who is (are) unconsoled?In spite of the many layers and implications, the plot is delightfully straightforward and simple. Mr. Ryder (the protagonist and narrator), a world-renowned pianist, arrived in some European city he could not identify to give a performance he simply failed to recall agreeing to give. What followed was a finely tuned narrative that punctiliously chronicled Mr. Ryder's three eventful (but not necessarily productive) days in town. Upon his arrival at the hotel, the pianist encountered a diverse cast of townspeople who overwhelmed him with their inexplicable knowledge and inexorable expectations of him. Only when he out of politeness engaged in paltry conversations with them one by one did Ryder find himself stuck in their lives and their problems.Gustav was a respectable porter who determined to implement some personal measure in order to improve the overall image of porters in town. The old man asked Ryder to have a little word with his sulky daughter Sophie who had not spoken to him for years. Her son Boris was portrayed as though he was a lonely orphan (I wonder why?) who muttered to himself. The pianist then stumbled on to Hoffman, the hotel manager whose wife Christine had scrupulously kept a scrapbook full of Ryder's cuttings, even those that mentioned the pianist in passing. Stephen, Hoffman's 23-year-old son who always had such low esteem and thought his mediocre talent had let down his parents, asked Ryder to comment on his piano rehearsal for the big night opening recital. Hoffman himself constantly dreaded his marriage that turned cold and all that left behind was underlying tension. Brodsky, an ex-orchestra conductor, sought to rebuild his fame and reconcile with Miss Collins after being "drunken" for 20 years. The town saw its own crisis in cultural degradation as though Ryder was the only possible rescue. ... ...This book is meant to be humorous though the title might have suggested otherwise. Each of the characters, including Ryder, could recount dozens of sad incidences-how loneliness had blighted lives, how families despaired at the realization that they had taken happiness for granted. The town and its people (merely strangers really) ludicrously demanded more and more out of Ryder who hardly had a good sleep. At one point Ryder threatened to live the town at once and cancelled his speech and recital. It's hilarious that Ryder lost control over his schedule whenever he brushed shoulders with someone who would mutter their problems.Landscape and time are key in the novel. About a quarter into the book one would encounter rapid swerve of landscape (this can be annoying and confusing at first). Ryder might one-minute walk into the hotel atrium but quickly found him in a path that led to a wood. Landscape change as such occurred sparsely throughout the book enough to cause confusion. As I read on I realized these changes might have hinted at the many memory fragments Ryder had envisioned in his mind. Once you have persevered through the narrative that seemed to have rambled on so indecipherably, everything began to make sense. The actual time-span of the book was 4 days but Ryder recounted on a montage of memories that might have lasted years. The notion of time was warped repeatedly. A casual elevator conversation could stretch to an hour, drifted to far-gone memories and remote places. In the end, when the compelling prose manifested the threads between Ryder and all the people whose lives he was led in and out for the past few days, you can on
Perhaps I shouldn't review this -- because I was unable to finish it (in fact I barely made it through the first third. Not, I hasten to add, because of any defect in the writing -- this is quite obviously the work of a master writer. The story reads like someone relating a dream, but this is a dream that goes on and on. As I do much of my reading in bed, prior to sleep, this book had a most peculiar and disturbing effect upon me -- the narrator's voice got into my head and I found myself continuing his story in my own dreams. I found this so distrubing, in fact, that I preferred to give up and try something less demanding. Perhaps I will try again, sometime.
I really tried to like this book. Unfortunately it was like reading someone's unexplainable dream sequence. Afraid to say I abandoned this book half way through.
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