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The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
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The Unconsoled (original 1995; edition 1999)

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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2,394542,605 (3.58)166
Member:jburlinson
Title:The Unconsoled
Authors:Kazuo Ishiguro
Info:Faber and Faber (1999), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:Fiction 20th Century Best of breed

Work details

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (1995)

  1. 30
    The Castle by Franz Kafka (chrisharpe)
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    Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz (slickdpdx)
    slickdpdx: Ishiguro's The Unconsoled may be the pinnacle of this peculiar genre.
  3. 00
    The Keep by Jennifer Egan (sturlington)
    sturlington: Surreal stories in unnamed Central European settings.
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    The Feverhead by Wolfgang Bauer (slickdpdx)
    slickdpdx: Ishiguro's The Unconsoled may be the pinnacle of this peculiar genre.
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» See also 166 mentions

English (48)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (54)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
For some reason I put off reading this book for a very long time but, having just really enjoyed ‘The Buried Giant’, I took the heavy tome from my bookshelves, blew off the dust and quickly found myself in familiar Ishiguro territory, viz. the highly analytical and formally expressed description of work practices (Mr Stevens would have appreciated this) and the nightmarish quality of a world where certain things are inexplicable (anticipating the foggy nature of ‘When we were orphans’).

As I got more into the book it reminded me of Peter Høeg’s ‘The History of Danish Dreams’ where similarly impossible things happen. So in Ishiguro’s book we have Ryder able to see and hear through walls while Høeg has time stand still in his. The effect? Well, first of all the reader has to accommodate this magic-realism if that’s what it is. I suspect some readers would not like it at all. Personally I found myself held by the narrative although at the same time I wanted some outcome to give relief from the way one Ryder incident just merges into the next without him ever determinedly clarifying a situation which mystifies him even as he has minor recollections along the way.

The narrator’s style has all the precision of Mr Stevens’ style in ‘Remains of the Day’ but I found their personalities very different – and this affected my response. In the earlier book I think the reader, while frustrated by the butler’s inability to see that he should be responsive to Miss Kenton until it s too late, still recognises in the man someone who is trying to do the right thing and is clinging to his belief in his profession to make him feel his life has been worth living – and then of course there’s the disillusionment and self-castigation at the end. His successor, Mr Ryder, though, is an arrogant, selfish man always ready to blame Sophie (who appears to be his wife) for all the ‘chaos’ in his life when there is no evidence that she is responsible. In fact, it seems Ryder himself is the problem, continually letting others down and incapable of finding out what he should be doing. Added to this is an aspect of the novel I don’t like and that’s Ishiguro making life even harder for Ryder, for example when he can’t speak to identify himself when with Fiona who needs to show her ‘friends’ that she really was a friend of this illustrious person. Manipulating the plot so transparently here make me feel that there was no way Ishiguro was going to let the reader escape the nightmare. Still, Ryder in the end maintains his illusions about his importance and lack of humanity, his focus at the end on the buffet at the back of the tram and what it has to offer just after Sophie has rejected him.

By the time you get near the end of the book, you realise that life is full of angst for everyone. As Saunders understates it to Ryder: ‘You’re not the only one in the world with worries’. And it’s not just worries about the future but regrets about the past. Pedersen equates the way ‘old men dream sometimes, wondering how it would have been if some key moment had gone the other way’ with the way places too find it difficult to come to terms with the past. The futility of this thought and the way people won’t change their nature are also put by Pedersen. So, as Ryder gets closer to his concert and continually waylaid one way or another, the reader gets the impression that we will never shake off this anxiety that besets us, at least in this novel. The way Ishiguro has just about all the characters longing to make right some deficit from the past or try to live up to what they see as someone else’s expectation of them makes these dominant themes – and depressing ones. Any consolation in this book is superficial and short-lived. ( )
  evening | Dec 28, 2015 |
THE UNCONSOLED. Kasuo Ishiguro remains one of my favourite contemporary writers. His books are imaginative, inventive, strongly crafted and push the boundaries to the very edges. This my favourite of his novels, all of which I've read. It's a slippy book, disorientated in time and space and drenched in music. The book sank like a stone, which didn't surprise me, its messages are subtle, and unlike the feted Ian McEwen, who can do no wrong with the critics, I fancy Ishiguro is less liked - and I do (secretly) wonder if that is because he is less English. Unlike his previous books, including, of course, Remains of the Day, and his subsequent books, especially Never Let Me Go, now a film, The Unconsoled sank like an anchor after receiving universally bad reviews at the time of its publication. The Telegraph review said it was a sprawling, almost indecipherable 500-page work and the Guardian said it left readers and reviewers baffled. One literary critic said that the novel had invented its own category of badness. Meanwhile, I was reading it with intense absorption and enjoyment, understanding exactly what he was getting at...at least I thought I did...clearly a reader's interpretation is their own. The Unconsoled is set over three days in the life of concert pianist Ryder, who has come to an unnamed European city to perform. His memory seems patchy and selective and he drifts from situation to situation as if in a surreal dream, unable to totally understand what is going on.
I'm glad to say that by 2005 literary critics were beginning to agree with me...they voted the novel as the third best British, Irish, or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005, and The Sunday Times placed it in 20th century's 50 most enjoyable books, later published as Pure Pleasure; A Guide to the 20th Century's Most Enjoyable Books.
One scene in the book has never left me; Ryder is in his hotel room when he notices that the rug is similar to the one he played soldiers on when a child. Suddenly, he realizes that the room is actually his old bedroom; he's back in his childhood. What follows is a tender, almost cherishing memory of better times which seems totally part of Ryder's life now. At the time I had just finished nursing my mother, who'd died of the advanced stages of a particularly psychotic form of Alzheimer's disease, and Ryder's problems and experiences reminded me of the twilight world she'd lived in, where real life probably invaded her dream world in unpleasant ways...she was happiest when imagining I was her sister, Beatrice, and that we were both in our twenties and living together before Mum married my father (Beatrice never married – in fact she came to live with the newly-weds!) Listening to Mum's mad conversations with herself gave me a wonderful insight into what life was like before the second world war (my mum was quite old when I was born).
I would recommend Ishiguro to anyone who hasn't yet read him...all his books. But The Unconsoled has a special place in my heart and will never leave my bookcase...so get your own copy! ( )
  ninahare | Nov 18, 2015 |
this is the most extraordinarily irritating book with one of the least likable 'heroes' i've ever come across... i am - literally! - struggling to push through to the end. ( )
  crowspeaks | Oct 16, 2015 |
The first book in many a year that I failed to get into - discarded after about 50 pages.
The book has the main character in a dream-like state - he doesn't quite remember where he is, and what he has to do. An interesting creation, and probably worth persisting with, if you have the endurance. But after checking reviews, I have decided that I am not going to get a lot more from the next 450 pages than I got from the first 50. So, put aside until I'm in traction and have run out of books.
Not read Feb 2015. ( )
  mbmackay | Feb 24, 2015 |
There are those who consider this book a masterpiece, there are those who loathe it, and there are those who find it intriguing but overlong. I'm in the latter camp. ( )
  le.vert.galant | Jan 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
The Unconsoled itself is beautifully controlled, even-paced, deadpan in spite of all extravagances. Its determined equanimity of tone makes you drowsy, and sometimes you wonder if you'd notice if you dropped off to sleep while you were reading. But there is finally something haunting, even alluring, about the proliferation of obstacles and stories in this book.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Michael Wood (pay site) (Dec 21, 1995)
 
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The taxi driver seemed embarrassed to find there was no one - not even a clerk behind the reception desk - waiting to welcome me.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679735879, Paperback)

The Unconsoled is at once a gripping psychological mystery, a wicked satire of the cult of art, and a poignant character study of a man whose public life has accelerated beyond his control. The setting is a nameless Central European city where Ryder, a renowned pianist, has come to give the most important performance of his life. Instead, he finds himself diverted on a series of cryptic and infuriating errands that nevertheless provide him with vital clues to his own past. In The Unconsoled Ishiguro creates a work that is itself a virtuoso performance, strange, haunting, and resonant with humanity and wit.

"A work of great interest and originality.... Ishiguro has mapped out an aesthetic territory that is all his own...frankly fantastic [and] fiercer and funnier than before."--The New Yorker

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:54 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A surrealistic novel on a man who finds himself in a strange city, not knowing what he is doing there, but everyone seems to know him. What is more, he must be important because people ask him for favors. As he goes from encounter to encounter, the man discovers himself. By the author of The Remains of the Day.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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