Context: We got and started opening a chocolate advent calendar while I was finishing this off.
This is one of the strangest books I’ve read in a long time. It’s the story of a man who seems to be a world-famous pianist. So famous, in fact, that he’s pretty much a household name. He arrives in a city a few days before a major concert and that’s about as far as normality goes.
As he settles into his hotel, things start to become very surreal. Time, space, people, his character… all of these things take on very elastic qualities. Even metaphors are flexible. The seemingly significant becomes inane while the ridiculous is raised to the heights of sublimity. At times the narrative takes on farcical proportions and had me laughing out loud. There was nothing really to laugh about, it was just the juxtaposition of objects and events.
This goes on for over 500 pages and, if I’d known this from the outset, I might not have started it. Once I got going though, Ishiguro had wrapped me up in what was effectively a dream.
Now, I’m no stranger to Ishiguro. I’ve read Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day and very much enjoyed both. I got the sense that I was in the presence of greatness while reading both. Never Let Me Go, in particular, really threw me about halfway through.
And I guess that’s what I was expecting from The Unconsoled. When I reached the end of the book and realised that Ishiguro wasn’t going to be supplying any clues as to what on earth was going on and, more importantly, why, my disappointment wasn’t nearly as great as I’d thought. I’d become mesmerised by the whole thing in fact.
I think genius has struck again. I can understand why it got mixed reviews but, quite honestly, what he’s done here is extremely clever. It plays with the reader in such a mischevious way. I bet he got tremendous fun out of writing it. I guess the weakness of the book for me was that, like most dreams, they’re fun while they last but, when you come back to reality, they’re pretty much worth forgetting about. I kind of felt like that about The Unconsoled.
The taxi driver seemed embarrassed to find there was no one – not even a clerk behind the reception desk – waiting to welcome me.
Then holding [my coffee] carefully in one hand, my generously laden plate in the other, I began making my way back to my seat.
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