I feel completely inadequate when I want to review 1- a literary fiction author with a good repute like Ishiguro; 2- a short story collection, so I have long postponed this post about this collection by Ishiguro.
What can I say? That Ishiguro is a skilful master of his art? That the stories are different but linked by a common streak of melancholy, despite moments of humor? Perhaps I just should say that I liked them, not equally, but that they resonated with me, like a good piece of music.
Ishiguro uses music and nightfall as thematic constraint. Most narrators are professional musicians, not as brilliant as pop stars or classical divas, but rather those who play in the background of cafés and other places and who earn a living with their trade, but only just. They have talent, but many times it is wasted. Music is something they all love, but music is also a pretext, a tool for other people to remember emotions, or to create intimacy, or just a soundtrack for something else going on.
I liked the first and the last story best, both set in Venice, possibly the place where music is most used for clichés. The first story, “Crooner” is told by a Czech guitarist who plays for tourists on the Piazza San Marco. One day among these tourists he spots an old crooner who has been as famous as Sinatra back when he was a child. The young musician approaches his ancient idol with veneration, and is hired to accompany him to serenade the crooner’s wife, only to get embroiled in the old man’s private regrets and sorrows.
The last story, “Cellists”, is about a talented young cellist who meets a woman who presents herself as a virtuoso and who says she wants to help him deploy his talent, instead of compromising it to small jobs. Yet the woman is not who she pretends to be, and at the end the young man must choose between dreams and the harsh reality.
Bittersweet, subdued, subtle are all fitting words for these stories. You might want to read them with some classic jazz playing, at nightfall.