It was about three years ago when I read Never Let Me Go. Back when there was a massive hype with the movie (which is a fantastic adaptation, by the way, so uncharacteristic of most book-to-movie adaptations), I picked it up, because I wanted to understand the excitement over this ‘spectacular’ book.
I remember being underwhelmed.
I remember wanting to like it so badly, but I never felt that I really understood it.
I’d gone into it knowing it had won critical acclaim, and expected a droning and long and embellished writing style that took five thousands words to describe one chair and I expected unlikeable and extremely over-dramatic characters. I don’t know why. I expected it to pour out some moral message and poke me with it for the next couple hundred pages.
This hype had convinced me that this book would be some masterpiece I couldn’t understand for its obvious complexity that I could see, but not understand.
Never Let Me Go was conversational. It was simple. It was poignant and subtle and carried you along gently and easily and I was so completely confused by all this that I left the book feeling cheated out of what I had expected.
And this year, I decided to give him one more go, and I am completely baffled by everything I missed in Ishiguro’s writing.
Safe to say that I liked this one.
Five Stories. Lots of Music. And lots of other stuff, too, but we’ll get to that.
I’m still trying to understand this story so I have no idea.
But, quite honestly, I can’t think of anything I’d want to change.
There isn’t exactly a way for me to summarise what this book took me through.
I don’t exactly understand what it was that it left me with. Not longing, but not sadness. A mixture of the two, I suppose. The characters are not unique snowflakes that will stick in your mind long after you close the book, but that is the beauty of it all. They are so wonderfully ordinary, so foreign and yet intimate with the reader that you see them in the person you walk passed on the street, or catch a glance of a table away. They embody the universal feelings that everyone has experienced, or fears or wishes to experience, which is a sense of purpose.
Our narrators are young musicians on the cusp of what they believe to be success. They are people waiting for the long promised ‘big break’ of their careers, or perhaps we the readers are, because we wonder why we watch the more than ordinary musicians live their lives.
Nocturnes does not force a message down your throat, nor does it persuade you to take sides. It simply shows you a moment, and lets you decide what to do with it. It’s about the promised romanticism that music delivers versus the reality of life, which is luck and coincidence and does not always favour those who work the hardest. It is about a person’s passion for life and love, and how easily it can be lost. It shows you hope, and you ask yourself whether it really is delusion or virtue. Cynicism meets Idealism and one has to reflect on if one is really better than the other. Whether greatness is really all that great, and if it is only reserved for the few that are lucky enough to stumble upon it.
It is a collection of stories that asks questions. That sense of the inevitable, of hope and longing and loss that it leaves the reader with, is not so much a reflection on the characters’ lives, but on your own life. It gives you a chance to reflect on your life, and on your own future, and perhaps the truth of what potential and talent and the promised ‘big break’ really is.
It is so powerful because while the characters and the stories may exist only as a trickle of music in the mind, a few lovely notes of some distant melody, that intense atmosphere lingers long after the book is put back on the shelf.
- “She might be a great person, but life’s so much bigger than just loving someone.”
- “If disappointments do come, you will carry on still. You will say, just as he does, I am so lucky.”
Nocturnes is strange because in a lot of ways it is not about the story itself. We travel across the world and see these different situations, these comical and poignant things, with a common thread of music, and along with that, of losing the drive and determination to mean something, or perhaps clinging onto it for too long when that something really means nothing at all. It is a small and modest thing, it tells of ordinary people and ordinary situations, but that, in a nutshell, is the quiet and lovely magic of it all.
5 shuriken stars