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The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (1995)

Recently added byGPlumb, nyce, contriver, BlackwellB, private library, allthingswords, AK23, Pigletto, egotrippa
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» See also 141 mentions

English (43)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
A great novel says more about the reader than the book itself, and the wide breadth of reactions to this one certainly shows that to be the case. To me, this book is a work of comic genius that laughs at human beings who take themselves seriously (which is most of us). It has a playful Zen quality of no boundaries in time or space and is free of a structure and plot which is likely to annoy some readers. Each scene is like an out-take from a comedy sketch show – Monty Python, perhaps. This novel can only be appreciated if approached with a sense of the absurd and a willingness to discard conventional expectations; if you can do that you are in for a treat... ( )
  BookMonk | Apr 13, 2014 |
Ryder arrives in town and steps into a hotel, ready to check in. And that's the last ordinary thing that happens in The Unconsoled. Ishiguro's narrative gradually descends into something other than reality. First, it's subtle: Ryder seems oddly patient as the hotel bellhop gives an extended monologue about himself and the respect (or lack thereof) accorded to his profession. Time seems to move in fits and starts, as characters whose concerns seem only incidental to the central plot (which surely must be developing by now) elaborate at length about their lives. Ryder attempts to navigate through his day in a linear fashion -- after all, he's a very important person, a celebrity even, in town to prepare for a very important speech and performance -- but distraction piles upon diversion piles upon impediment, as the day and night stretch on.
As Ryder experiences the people and events around him, mostly being pulled along, the narrative feels like a dream. Amazingly so, actually. Ishiguro captures the feeling of those anxiety dreams in which we know we have to be somewhere, do something, but there's no straight path between here and there, we can't seem to get there, and can't seem to keep our minds on it...
I kept expecting to lose patience with The Unconsoled -- after all, how much of this unreality can one take before a certain longing takes hold for a linear plot, a sense of progression, of our protagonist actually doing things instead of having things done to him? Yet I found myself enjoying the book. I don't pretend to know what the author's intentions were, but by the end I was reflecting on this world full of people and how our lives intersect, each of us moving according to our own interests, desires and whims. What if we wore all those internal motivations on our sleeves, and explained them at great length? What if everyone did that, except for one poor visitor from some far away place?
At the same time, Ishiguro seems to have had in mind a meditation on the nature of fame and celebrity. Ryder's reality and his very nature seem mutable, defined by the preconceptions of those around him, changing with each new encounter. What is left of Ryder but the public perception of the man?
And there you have The Unconsoled. Twisting, dreamlike, frustrating, and ultimately, strangely rewarding.

( )
1 vote ksimon | Feb 6, 2014 |
aggravating and awful, foggy and unclear, too long for its own good. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 4, 2014 |
Truthfully, I abandoned this book several weeks ago - I've only gotten a few pages further into this book since the last time I wrote about it. However, I've still had it in my apartment, bookmark in place, taunting me. I've now officially decided to abandon it and move on to something else, guilt-free. However, before abandoning it, I wanted to write a little about it.

I've finished a third of the book. I hate not finishing books, especially ones I've gotten as far into as this one, but I have a steadily growing pile of ILL books, used and new books I've bought, and unwatched anime - all of it is capturing my interest more than this book.

I originally started reading this as a palate cleanser - I desperately needed a break from romance novels, and this book fit the bill. It's a strange story. The protagonist, Mr. Ryder, is an exhausted and confused pianist who has been invited to give a performance in a European city still recovering from some sort of disastrous event. What that event was, Mr. Ryder doesn't know. In fact, he doesn't know much at all - he supposedly has a packed schedule, but he can't remember what's in that schedule, and he doesn't even know exactly what it is he's supposed to be doing at the performance. Because everyone else seems to know what he's supposed to be doing and assumes he does too, he feels too awkward to ask any questions.

Despite his supposedly packed schedule, Mr. Ryder gets sucked into one ordinary and incredibly time-consuming errand after another. It becomes evident to the reader that there is something not quite right about Mr. Ryder's memory, or perhaps there's something off about his entire time in this city. In one scene, he seems to be a complete newcomer to the city, while in another he might be chatting with people he knows intimately, who he seemed not to know at all only a few pages earlier. He might observe other characters and suddenly seem to be able to know their thoughts - without ever thinking it's strange, he'll know things about other characters' pasts that one would think he shouldn't know, only for it to later be revealed that he actually had known those characters for years but somehow did not remember. All throughout this, Mr. Ryder is incredibly, deeply exhausted. He needs a good night's sleep, but things keep getting in the way.

At first, I found this all fascinating. I could have cared less about the town and its big event, but I really wanted to know what was going on with Mr. Ryder. I thought the strangeness was all just due to fatigue - sleep deprivation can mess with your memory. Then I got to the part where Mr. Ryder is attending a dinner of some kind and must give a speech. Even though he is wearing a dressing gown, and even though that gown falls open when he first attempts to give his speech, no one reacts the way I would have expected people to react. The location itself becomes a bit fuzzy - it seemed clear, at first, that it was taking place somewhere Mr. Ryder had never been, but then it turned out to be taking place in the very hotel he (and I) thought he had left.

It was at that point that I decided the only plausible explanation for everything going on was that Mr. Ryder was having a dream. I think that's part of the reason why I lost interest. There's no point in trying to figure out what's going on if the author can make anything happen. It could turn out that I'm wrong, and something very different is going on, but, to be honest, I'm no longer interested enough in the book to want to find out.

Some might find the gradual unwrapping of the town's residents and past interesting and keep going just for that. I did find it all interesting, at first, but then I just got tired of the way it was all written. It's hard to tell, sometimes, what information is important and what isn't - characters can talk for pages at a time about very little. Paragraphs that are anywhere from one to four pages long are a regular occurrence, and they became more annoying to me as the book progressed.

According to some Amazon.com customer reviews I read, I'm not the only one to find this a difficult book to get through. It sounds like Ishiguro's other works are not necessarily like this, so I might try one of his other books one day. It's possible I might try this book again one day, but I kind of doubt it. It's an exhausting book - I'd rather devote my energy to something more immediately enjoyable.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
  Familiar_Diversions | Sep 24, 2013 |
This is undoubtedly Ishiguro’s masterpiece! I’ve read several of his other books, but I always come away from them with a mixture of enthusiasm and reserve. The thing is, Ishiguro is a control freak. His books always seem to me to be so well planned out that there is no sense of discovery for the reader. It is almost like you are being shown a set of corridors that unfold very sure-handedly. It’s artfully done, but that is the problem: as a reader, I feel like he hides certain things from me (plot points, twists, etc.) that end up making me feel manipulated.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of manipulation in this book as well (perhaps even more). However, it seems well earned here. His reveals are done so organically that when it comes you get this ‘of course!’ moment. That is because these characters are so well developed, and you find out more and more about them as the novel unfolds, and each one is a little less surprising knowing what you know already, it’s totally believable. The other thing is that Ishiguro balances out his control-freak nature with an opposite impulse: by writing in the style of a surreal dream-state, he necessarily introduces elements that are indeterminate, illogical, and irresolvable. It means that his carefully controlled plot is always veering seemingly out of control, yet always still maintaining control. It is this tension that makes it work. I feel like many amateur writers try this surreal Kafka-esque kind of writing. But without the discipline that Ishiguro brings here, the writing often suffers from a sense of complete randomness, i.e. weird for the sake of being weird. What’s impressive is that through all the craziness, you can see that Ishiguro has a concrete, realistic vision and emotional center (though at points it does seem random, it takes 535 pages to finally see how it all comes together).

To me, it’s a book about the futility and short sightedness of human endeavors, and about how we are all pulled in certain directions by our past so that we end up in a rut going around in a circle. The last image of the book is especially poignant. Ryder is riding (intentional pun?) on a tram that circles the city. He is understandably sad about the events that have transpired, and yet he’s made a new friend who doesn’t care to ask too many personal questions. On top of that, there is a buffet being served. Ryder finds his mood improving already. All the themes of the book are here, the insularity of the small town with its citizens stuck on a circular track, the shortsightedness of immediate distractions, the futility of ever truly addressing deeper problems (i.e. Ryder’s essential unhappiness).

Ishiguro is able to build highly complex characters, each with their own set of crazy behaviors. But underneath that wacky exterior lies a hidden agenda. Each character’s hidden agenda is what drives him/her to act/interact with others the way they do, often using others only as a means to their own ends. It’s a tightly knit tangle of complex emotions and motivations that becomes claustrophobically more depressing the more you think about it. Each character’s trajectory weaves into those around them, and necessarily brings the whole community down. What Ishiguro says about this small town is devastating, his vision of humanity is one of the saddest things to read, though not without a lot of truth... for many of these characters have very good intentions, but they are blinded by their own myopic goals, so that they never see the world around them.

I wish Ishiguro would stop writing those Never Let Me Downs and Artist of the Floating Worlds and write more books like this one. ( )
1 vote JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:04 -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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