36 thoughts on “The UNCONSOLED – Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. A book that has been in my top ten since I read it at the time it was published. To prove this, here is my post in 2000 listing my top ten at that time: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Literature/conversations/topics/997

    Decided to re-read it as a result of Timothy Jarvis’ kindred spirit Facebook comment relating to James Everington’s ‘The Quarantined City’ that I reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/the-quarantined-city-james-everington/

    My review of TJ’s ‘The Wanderer’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/the-wanderer-timothy-j-jarvis/

    My review of Lowry’s Under The Volcano here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/under-the-volcano-malcolm-lowry/

  2. IMG_3673I
    “My aunt’s painting of Salisbury Cathedral on the wall above my head.”

    This book, in my first small jump-restart, is just as I remember it but paradoxically coming up completely fresh; that’s the sort of thing I now recall it doing to the reader. An obsessively relentless, slowly forward-pushing, relatively simple Pärt music of a style of words, as Ryder arrives in this anonymous MittelEuropean hotel, to give a piano recital (Ryder seems famous), listening to Brodsky rehearsing or tuning the piano in the distance (since reading this book I have seen the Brodsky Quartet live) and given excuses why the manager isn’t there to welcome him, the porter’s talk of portering and his family (very important and weighty), the small woman who later happens to be in the elevator with Ryder and the porter and the importance now radiated to his mission in the town, his tight schedule, his proposed visits to this unknown city’s Old Town and its sights, and his hotel room, not in The Hyde Hotel but would have fitted there, well, I shall leave you to discover more about this room for yourself, as he does. In fact, I do not intend to continue itemising the plot of this matchless classic but just to let you know how it affects me, like entering it as if it’s its own hotel within?
    I shall keep holding this book like luggage, never putting it down, but eking it out, too.

  3. 2

    “‘…a short nap.’
    ‘A short nap?'”

    The ‘welcoming’ ambiance of the hotel (Florence is mentioned by chance in this chapter even while knowing this hotel is in (post-Soviet?) eastern Europe beyond the tentacles of the then future’s Brexit) reminds me of the hotel in my favourite film, the one screening Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’, and its Mahler music, and the character played by Bogarde, and perhaps also of Mann’s own Magic Mountain sanatorium and its central Castorp character. This ambiance is one of gently straight-faced, but subtly overweening, politeness with an undercurrent of duty and expectation of its celebrity guest, Ryder….
    It is utterly perfect. Trying to remember the names of a Dutch football team. And a pre-arranged signal between guest and management like wiping windows.

    “An outsider such as myself may after some frank discussion get to the bottom of one thing, only to find it connected to another problem.”

  4. 3 & 4

    “‘Number Nine . . . It’s Number Nine . . .'”

    I wonder if Kazuo sounds like ‘casual’ for a reason. As I follow Ryder almost in a secret mission into the Old Town, I wonder if he knows more than he is letting on to us by means of his relentlessly ‘casual’ narration, come what may. It is as if, by having read this book before some twenty years ago, and now returning to it, I know exactly how he feels, rediscovering memories he forgotten he had. Almost a forgotten ready-made family of words with which to renew acquaintance. One of two parents and their son. But the people here have heavy bases like Subbuteo footballers.

  5. 5

    “It’s to do with Mr Brodsky.”

    Indeed it is. And now I think John Howard’s stories, I think Stephen Poliakoff’s TV films, hotels, causal or casual anxieties of impending duties or the inexplicable importance of visitors to a city and, in Brodsky’s case, to the plot itself, a plot that seems to unwind an audit trail autonomously with its own degree of anxiety as well as omniscience granted, say, to a character in a car outside a building to what is happening inside that building. It is an easy book to read. But it is also not an easy book to read.

    “Silence is just as likely to indicate the most profound ideas forming, the deepest energies being summoned.”

  6. 6

    “I’d just play and play. Bach, Chopin, Beethoven. Then on to the modern stuff. Grebel, Kazan, Mullery.”

    This book is insidious. It flows uniquely like the finest syrup without being sticky. Here, Stephan, the hotel manager’s son, talks to Ryder of his chequered music career from childhood in interface with his insidiously demanding Mum and Dad. Insidious is a word that keeps coming back tommy mind. How Stephan’s participation at Ryder’s important recital has its own importance in recouping the regard of his parents. This book itself I brought up in my earlier life to be as good as it was then. It now needs to perform, too, as a second wind in its literary career. And so far, it has. Playing Beethoven as well as Mullery, in its own verbal rather than musical terms. Both composers variously revolutionary in their own ways. But which one is Ishiguro?

  7. 7

    “In those days Sophie had this little white hamster. She called it Ulrich,…”

    I have been inveigled ingratiatingly into this book. Or this box? I accept its power, its monotonous obsessions! Indeed how can one be thrilled by monotony? But I genuinely am, just as Ryder is by other people’s concerns. There is expectation and wilfulness, particularly by the porter, who wakes out of shift and appears immaculately uniform. This is outright conspiracy of a plot’s gestalt or bizarrely random and inchoate. I am as as much a victim as Ryder? I actually have to resist at times picking up this book and consuming it too quickly. Or vice versa.

  8. 8

    Why did both Sophie and Ryder queue up for ice creams in the late night cinema when they were worried about getting two seats in a quickly crowding auditorium? One could have saved the seats while the other bought the two ice creams.
    Were Yul Brynner and Clint Eastwood really in 2001:Space Odyssey?
    And did people in the audience have a business meeting while at a concert during opera performances in the old days of history? Can’t imagine it happening today with a performance of, say, Kazans’s Gorotesqueries for Cello and Three Flutes? Let alone in a cinema showing of 2001: Space Odyssey.
    Talk of Boris once spoiling his own drawing of Superman almost made me cry in the context.
    This book makes me feel I am not the same person who started re-reading it a few days ago. Maybe I was also changed when I first read it in the 1990s, but have now forgotten?

  9. 9

    “‘It’s too late. We’ve lost it. Why don’t we resign ourselves to being just another cold, lonely city? Other cities have.”

    Yet, there is also hope in other voices here. Mr Brodsky is being rehabilitated for just such a hope amid these municipal politics discussed under the dark of the cinema… and Ryder, as narrator, is part of that plan of rehabilitation, a plan he seems already to have accepted and then understood without our first understanding it and then accepting it. The contract between narrator and reader at least strained. All imbued, it seemed, with music, Brodsky’s as well as Ryder’s. For music, I can forgive anything.

  10. 10

    “You see, this is the first time I’ve had a truly distinguished guest in that room since its reconceptualisation four years ago.”

    For those of you who don’t know it, this is the famous long chapter, or some would say infamous, where tired Ryder is unexpectedly taken to a formal dinner in his dressing-gown and carpet slippers, with all manner of insistent encounters … and our and his first view of Mr Brodsky, whose dog’s recent dying seems to have caused much consternation. You will not forget this chapter; it will lodge in your mind forever; even I after all these years found it familiar; above all, among many other events, you won’t forget the tale of one man at the dinner about his first finding the dead dog and carrying it home on his shoulders behind a wall as high as his own shoulders and head. It is a literary scene that is matchless. And, in total, this chapter deals with the over-malleable Ryder’s own crazily bespoke Rite of Eyes Wide Shut….
    But the surprising thing is that it is all quite believable and obsessionally readable. Unputdownable.

    “I say this because the world seems full of people claiming to be geniuses of one sort or another, who are in fact remarkable only for a colossal inability to organise their lives.”

  11. II
    11 & 12

    “— just a typical hotel room — and it occurred to me that I was indeed displaying an unseemly attachment to it.”

    …as this book has such an influence on me? I can’t put it down however hard I try. I am bamboozled by it, like that journalist and photographer at the cafe, talking cynically over my head ABOUT me and looking back to me with fake fannishness for my status as celebrity. Then meeting a woman on the tram acting as its conductor who was once an old school friend in England! The panic and anxiety of a Poliakoff scene, making me keep turning the pages. And the real tears that came to my eyes about my elderly parents who will be arriving in this unknown city with heavy luggage, naive and helpless, although I know they are really dead, but that fact does not allow me to avoid my responsibility for them. And when I say real tears, I really mean real tears, as I happen to be listening to a sad part of a Mahler symphony as I just read these two chapters.
    Believe me, this is the most incredible work of fiction EVER. It surely must be. (I also noticed that Ryder talks to boyish-acting Boris (the sort of boyishness I imagine Boris Johnson once deploying) about never worrying to interrupt Ryder however busy he seems with important matters if he Boris has concerns he wants to discuss with Ryder, in exactly the same way as the hotel manager once earlier spoke to Ryder.)

  12. 13 & 14

    “A fondness for pointlessly matching fragmented passages with each other. And at the more personal level, a megalomania masquerading behind a modest and kindly manner…”

    Indeed, and I feel obliged to merely describe this book from this point onward, neither interpreting or evaluating it. It’s an anxious world already without my agonising over it. But Ryder is ever in cleft stick, often tantamount to being kidnapped towards new obligations, if with his implicit approval, like his being photographed alongside a controversial monument, being too easily diverted from previous duties, previous loyalties to, say, Boris and Fiona, mistaking one place for another, almost the same building but miles apart, getting entrammelled in local politics, ambushed for opinions, being waylaid by one faction or another, all seeming concerned with the Theory of Modern Music like that of Kazan and Mullery, intricate names for various musical tropes, clogged in pretentiousness and the Offenbach dilemma. All this in spite of his tight schedule. Compliance and ingratiation rampant – to the backdrop of musical paths only avant garde compositions can provide? All couched in a seemingly simple, if obsessive, narration.

  13. 15

    “I have to keep going on these trips because, you see, you can never tell when it’s going to come along. I mean the very special one, the very important trip, the one that’s very very important, not just for me but for everyone, everyone in the whole world.”11A4E4FA-8E60-4FC8-9072-56971E02CB8A

    …and I do. Ryder, meanwhile, is now bonding with Boris again, morphed back to the family, the artificial lake, the circular walkways, the old terrorising thugs…. memories of other times or today’s realities? The part of an an apartment here that reminds him of his childhood home in England. The social divides, the need to impress, to transcend the ‘patronising bile’, Ryder and Sophie and Boris, that nuclear family, quickly morphed again, now into his obligations to Fiona, the tram conductor… his tight schedule a sheer nightmare of conflicting obligations. Like my needing to juggle together gestalt real-time reviews every day. Hopefully a break for me, if not for Ryder, in an important trip to a place called Peterborough tomorrow? Shall I take this book with me?

  14. 16

    “Now, just as Fiona turned to me, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror hung on the opposite wall.”

    … following a little break in this review, when I went to a convention and ended up ultra-extolling this novel to others, and now having returned I catch myself similarly in a mirror, a literary mirror created by this book, and I wish I had not admitted to my identity to these people whom I met there, in the same way as Ryder doesn’t reveal his own. A sense of absurdist shame. Amid this chapter with the comic genius of the scene of Mr Brodsky and Miss Collins in reunion, but still on a brink of never admitting identities, in the centre of a Zoo, that in hindsight I now see as a vague pre-echo of the Zoo in Nemonymous Night, the Zoo where you can be sure of non-dream verities being established… appropriately in front of the Giraffe enclosure. I DO NOT BELIEVE IT!

  15. 17 & 18

    “Turning, I saw that an old ruined car had been left abandoned in the grass close to where I was standing. The other guests had all left a space around it, as though its rust and general dilapidation might spread to their own vehicles.”

    This book of insistent volubility by chance characters Ryder encounters is linked to less-or-more-than-chance paranoia, or personally meaningful event-pareidolia. This literary flavour is both unique and addictive, as it somehow involves us, even incriminates us as readers. A spiral or bolus of anxiety, to get it all done, and it takes will power to eke out our readerly responsibility. Amid our own busy schedule of reading elsewhere as well as real-timing Ryder.
    That ruined car turns out not to be any old chance car. The journey to the gallery not a chance one, with Sophie and Boris both adding to the anxiety of the journey, it also being not a question of following a red car but of the red car allowing or even inducing itself to be followed.

  16. 19 & 20

    “: the men with their self-satisfied smiles, the pompous way they took their hands in and out of their trouser pockets as though to demonstrate to one and all how at ease they were in a gathering of this sort; and the women, with their ridiculous costumes, and their way of shaking their heads helplessly when they laughed.”

    This book gets nearer to what we now know as the ‘fake news’ of humanity than any other book. As we are led by the hand, as it were, towards a long or curved corridor’s door to either Narnia or just a broom cupboard, not a wardrobe at all, I guess. A whole set-up we take for granted even though, at each of its turns, we cannot take any of it for granted. Eventually, so far, a fiction that is itself autistic, just as much as it it is ABOUT an autistic boy called Boris. Shortening and lengthening his neck at will. I take responsibility for bringing up this book like a child, even while it leads me a merry dance to I remember not where. Rider or ridden, I cease to care.

  17. III
    21 & 22

    “That is, I’d forgotten St. Peter’s Cemetery was a cemetery.”

    At first importuned by the original porter (Boris’s grandpa) to advocate porterage, Ryder does his own importuning upon a visit to Miss Collins for her help in preparing for his own all-important performance, then, assuming again an omniscient narration of events he can’t see, and says he sees Brodsky importuning Miss Collins to rerequite their love, a love that —because of his wound that affects his prowess as a lover (ironically compared to the Tadpole Man, I guess) — remains unrerequited….And Ryder inundated by those seeking favours from him as a series of interruptions to an unknown audit trail.EAEC79D3-555B-4326-B30A-57FACFBE2077
    A series of wounded importuning ingratiations that affect my own equilibrium as reader and Ryder. Mrs May’s coughing fit at her own important performance today and a crouching prankish individual seemingly to me from this book approaching her during that performance with a piece of paper…letters falling off the caption behind Mrs May ….and Laura K needing bodyguards… Trump, Brexit, this book has infected the whole world, I maintain. Or vice versa.

    “Absurd shoes. You look like one of those toy soldiers with a base so you don’t fall over.”

  18. 23 & 24

    “Ha! How beautiful it must be inside your head, Mr Ryder.”

    I now begin to wonder who is taking the piss out of whom. Hoffman out of Ryder, when the latter turns anxiety into near panic that one thing has followed another and he still has had no chance to practise the piano for the imminent big event that we are all still awaiting, and then he is shown by Hoffman into a sort of public lavatory within the hotel where a piano is ensconced in a cubicle! Or Ryder taking the piss out of the Reader, in narrating the later long obsessive speech by Hoffman about his marriage, one that seems to echo many marriages, when one tearfully sees one’s wife flirting with another man who probably would have served as a better husband for her than one oneself has proved to be, flirting (as she turned out to be) with this other man, believe it or not, about the poetry of Baudelaire, poetry one did not know she had even read. (See my little poem about Baudelaire here that I first wrote in the 1960s). This masterpiece of a book is a boring-entertaining series of autistic or artistic confessionals. but who is confessing to whom? And what music should Ryder choose for his big event: Yamanaka’s GLOBESTRUCTURES: OPTION II, Mullery’s ASBESTOS AND FIBRE or Kazan’s WIND TUNNELS?

  19. Pingback: The Consoling Genius: Kazuo Ishiguro. | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEW

  20. 25

    “Somehow, the cough had contained in it all her perfectionism, her high-mindedness,”

    It is now dawning on me that this book is about gestalt real-time reviewing, the satisfying synching of events by random preternaturalism, coupled here with a circling around omniscience, transcending it, Ryder not, after all, Reader, but now perhaps as Reviewer, or as Author-Narrator, tied up with conducting an orchestra (co-opting Brodsky as Brodsky buries his dog Bruno by chance in the middle of a chance nowhere within hearing of the hut where Ryder has been taken to practise on an old upright piano, a successful communion with the Mullery piece, with Ryder’s elderly parents in mind) as well as playing the solo piano in a piano concerto being conducted. Who or what is leading who or what, baton or piano? Word or writer of word? And now a further gestalt synching or hawling at a chance funeral nearby. The once hidden significance of the Sattler Monument, and the more minor characters (at the funeral) beginning a pogrom against the Author-Narrator … and Reader? Force-feeding us their own plot, symbolised by cake and peppermint?

    “You know the way old men dream sometimes, wondering how it would have been if some key moment had gone another way.”

  21. 26

    “if I may say so, this wall is quite typical of this town. Utterly preposterous obstacles everywhere.”

    More grating anxiety ridden conversations delaying Ryder from getting to his big performance, whereby his elderly parents, he’s told, will be taken there by special horse and carriage. Ryder in many ways reminds me of Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice (my favourite ever film), in his own anxiety ridden trials and tribulations, hopes and setbacks, best feet forward and mistakes. (I happened to mention this film today in my final section of my review of The Waves by Virginia Woolf here: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/virginia-woolf/#comment-891) Getting to the Domed Roof and delayed again by grateful porters…and by a Folly called Wall.
    This is stuff you can’t shake off. This is NOT like reading an ordinary book. This is your life’s journey thickened or curdled with literature … or simply enriched?

  22. 27
    28 & 29

    “As soon as the day starts, this other thing, this force, it comes and takes over. And whatever I do, everything between us just goes another way, not the way I want it.”

    That’s Mrs Hoffman speaking, if anyone doesn’t know, after waking following the happiness of a dream that she thinks, within the dream, will last forever. Ryder’s meeting with her on his stuttering driven rite of passage between seeing Gustav the porter dance with heavy specially-filled suitcase and even heavier golfing bag in the cafe (with gypsy violinists like those in Death in Venice, one of the most poignant scenes in all literature as the Porter performs in front of his grandson Boris and all the other porters, thus extending his portering prowess that he first described so memorably at the beginning of this book) between that and meeting Mr Hoffman in the concert hall on the brink of the evening’s big performance… and talk of Mr Brodsky’s possibly inadvisable small tipple of whiskey…following the fraughtness of his planned meeting with Miss Collins at that cemetery he once forgot was a cemetery at all. These scenes are so utterly iconic, surely you don’t need me to tell you about them. But that would rather deplete my gestalt real-time review so please bear with me, as I also now mention for the first time that this book is uniquely one relentless stoicism speech after another. Like those ‘speeches’ in Woolf’s WAVES. Stoicism that is accepted and literally lived through by the reader, making this book itself relentlessly unputdowable although I do sporadically put it down as all readers must. The fate of Gustav the porter, following his dance, has also brought me to tears.

  23. 30

    “Yes, I was thinking about that day. One of those foggy October mornings you always get in England.”

    The various duties of Ryder reach culmination, a conflux of accidents and coincidences, a polyPoliakoff of rushed and relaxed angst, including Brodsky needing limb amputation with a rusty carboot hacksaw. Yes, you heard me correctly the first time. And a Ryder-ready-made hindsight backstory of responsibility.

  24. 31 & 32

    “‘But Mr Brodsky,’ I said quietly, ‘you’ve lost a limb. That can never be a trivial matter.’”

    No plot spoilers here. But there’s more to this missing limb than meets the eye. So are there more things in this book also that meet other eyes with other messages? I sense a polarity over this book as there has since been on Brexit. I love this book. I hate Brexit. This is the European book supreme first cast in the late 1990s by Kazuo in premonition of Brexistentialism today. Meanwhile, “pressing matters” continue to pile up for our characters. No wonder stoical Brodsky is using an ironing-board as a crutch for his missing leg! I am concerned about the care for Ryder’s elderly parents on their arrival at the concert hall. Have they arrived, and if so, did they arrive in the planned horsedrawn conveyance?

  25. 33 & 34

    “…and again I felt frustration about the whole way I had organised my time since arriving in the city.”

    That understatement is the nub of the book, but also hides a million other sins and good intentions, and even more real and potential crises for the reader as well as for Ryder. The closing (?) scenes with Boris, Sophie and Gustav the porter, among all the other porters, meanwhile, are the height of poignancy. High tragedy with comedy, like Macbeth’s Porter? Overcoat et al. Ryder’s viewpoint of the concert hall’s auditorium via a cupboard in its ceiling is so utterly memorable I wonder how I had forgotten it from 20 years ago until now! The scenes of performance, Stephan’s piano recital and ironing-board supported Brodsky conducting are or should be famous scenes from all literature. They are absolutely staggering, no joke intended. And to think that these scenes feature my own favourite style of music: Modern atonal ‘classical music’. The final (?) scenes of Brodsky with Miss Collins exceeds all expectations. And as I sense it was most apt that I happened to re-read some of these ‘crucial performance’ scenes in the same week as that creep creeping up with a piece of paper towards an-about-to-be-coughing Theresa May, and letters falling off the wall behind her, well, that is unbelievable! Read these chapters and you will know what I mean. And then another questionable understatement – “Would the evening prove to be a turning-point for the community after all?”

  26. 35 – 38

    “‘Listen,’ he was saying, ‘everything always seems very bad at the time. But it all passes, nothing’s ever so bad as it looks. Do cheer up.’”

    These closing relatively short chapters are disarmingly full of this book’s previous exterior emotional-blackmail and stoical self-guilt. Also full of its utter poignancy. Yet here it completes, too, a gestalt full of hope … and the author — alongside Ryder-Reader-Reviewer or Dreamcatcher-Hawler — can look forward to his new engagement in Helsinki with confidence away from this unknown city’s trauma, now tram-on-a-circuit, an electrician’s circuit?
    Is Helsinki the place where he is due to receive his (2017) Nobel Prize award? If so, this book is even more crucial to our existence. To my existence. It is not in my top ten novels as it was in 2000 (proved above) but it is now my top novel of all.
    My own elderly parents are always here, despite their absence. And my wife (honestly) just sang a song to herself in the kitchen nearby: ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor?’ She has never read this novel nor does she know I noticed her singing it just now. She often briefly sings it, for some reason. I swear on my once elderly parents’ souls that my account of that event just now is absolutely true.

    “…I could look forward to Helsinki with pride and confidence.”


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