One of the things at which Kazuo Ishiguro excels is writing first person characters who have flawed views of themselves; they believe they are perfectly rational, charming, intelligent, while all the while they are something other. And he depicts them in such a way as to allow us to see both sides, permitting us to have a view on the person behind the one the narrator (sic) is trying to self-promote. Stevens in “Remains of the Day” is perhaps the exemplar of this. It is a book I read in one go sitting in a pub in the Welsh hills many years ago!
In “Nocturnes” there are other characters who fit this profile too; however, whilst this dislocation of self-image and true personality comes across, it is perhaps not as effective as it could be. It might be the form – five short stories – which prevent a gradual build-up of the characters, but in “Nocturnes” the lead characters seem to rush you into disliking them, and the stories themselves are a little repetitive: the slightly out-of-kilter narrator or lead, a dysfunctional couple, the vaguely ridiculous tendency for one or more characters to leap to anger, misinterpretation, misjudgement. In a number of cases I simply didn’t believe what I was reading; and worse, I didn’t really care about the people being depicted.
Having read much of Ishiguro’s work, I confess disappointment. The book feels a little like something rushed out – though that’s undoubtedly unfair, and I’m sure true Ishiguro fans will read it and love it.