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The Unconsoled (1995)

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,237723,372 (3.59)207
Ryder, a renowned pianist, arrives in a Central European city he cannot identify for a concert he cannot remember agreeing to give. But then as he traverses a landscape by turns eerie and comical - and always strangely malleable, as a dream might be - he comes steadily to realise he is facing the most crucial performance of his life. Ishiguro's extraordinary study of a man whose life has accelerated beyond his control was met on publication by consternation, vilification - and the highest praise.… (more)
  1. 32
    The Castle by Franz Kafka (chrisharpe)
  2. 00
    Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz (slickdpdx)
    slickdpdx: Ishiguro's The Unconsoled may be the pinnacle of this peculiar genre.
  3. 00
    In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster (Vonini)
    Vonini: Same surreal feeling
  4. 00
    The Thief of Time by John Boyne (Booksloth)
  5. 00
    2666 by Roberto Bolaño (Dystopos)
  6. 01
    The Keep by Jennifer Egan (sturlington)
    sturlington: Surreal stories in unnamed Central European settings.
  7. 01
    The Feverhead by Wolfgang Bauer (slickdpdx)
    slickdpdx: Ishiguro's The Unconsoled may be the pinnacle of this peculiar genre.
  8. 12
    An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (Booksloth)
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» See also 207 mentions

English (63)  Dutch (3)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  All languages (71)
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Beautifully written and always engaging. The story of a pianist/societal influencer's visit to an unnamed city which is undergoing a cultural/moral malaise. While not many of the characters are likeable they are nearly all fascinating. Never sure what is going to happen next. Franz Kafka meets Henry James in the late 20th century. ( )
  Estragon1958 | May 23, 2022 |
GoodReads, & my compulsion to write a review of every bk I read now, is beginning to turn into a nightmare for me. I look at my huge pile of bks-to-be-read & I think something like: "Am I ready to tackle this one yet?" Given that I tend to accumulate bks that I think will somehow expand my mind, the answer to the question is more than a bit ambiguous. Don't I already have enuf on my plate? & isn't GoodReads pushing the profit-off-of-ads thing A BIT TOO FAR?!

ANYWAY, it's almost always trite to compare one author's work to another author's work BUT HERE I GO!: 1st, I thought of Maurice Blanchot's "Aminadab" (1949) wch I didn't like much but wch deserves credit as a precursor of the psychology here. 2nd, Kafka in general. 3rd, Patricia Highsmith in general (sortof) - particularly "A Suspension of Mercy". 4th Shirley Jackon's famous short story "The Lottery". In other words, we're talking some pretty 'sick' company here.. but SPECIAL company.

Despite all those comparisons, this work is original. It doesn't get a 5 star rating b/c holding it up to Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" is bound to make it pale (although I've given other works 5 star ratings that also don't really make THAT grade).

"The Unconsoled" isn't quite surreal.. but it's close. In a sense it's not exactly ANYTHING.. & that's a central part of its 'mastery'. Reading it is like becoming an amnesiac, it's maddening. WHAT EXACTLY IS going on here?! In a sense, there's a fairly straight-forward plot: a renowned pianist appears in a city to give a concert & is treated respectfully. Somehow, though, he becomes distracted from his purpose & becomes continually sidetracked. But is that REALLY what's happening here?!

Well, no, nothing is REALLY happening here. Various borderline conventional explanations may occur to the reader: perhaps the protagonist, the pianist, is an amnesiac; perhaps he has some special ability for omniscience that singles him out more than his piano playing. But, no, nothing really explains anything. Everything is just slightly.. OFF. Nothing makes sense at the same time that the plot seems to flow along conventionally at times. The protagonist is as confused as the reader.

The pianist goes out to a movie w/ a woman he doesn't know, or does he? Maybe she's his wife, maybe they have a kid together.. The movie is one of his favorites, "2001". In this version, though, it stars Clint Eastwood & Yul Brynner. It's IMPORTANT that the pianist see this movie w/ this woman & yet.. he wanders off under the influence of other people & seems to forget all about her. All of these things are described in 'normal' terms w/ no explanation.

The whole effect is simultaneously subtle AND radically disruptive. It's not as if the work is screaming: SURREALISM or TECHNIQUE. It just flows along, almost blandly descriptive at the same time that it's 'impossible' - & that's its genius.

The pianist has a typical 1st-person narration going that morphs into a 3rd-person narrative as if nothing unusual has happened, as if it's still, somehow, 1st-person. It's as if the pianist narrator has slipped into an omniscient daydream mode. Does this in any way 'explain' his strange relations to the people that're supposedly strangers who apparently aren't really strangers after all?! No. No. No. The author is just fucking w/ the reader's mind.

The plot is meant to keep us engrossed while the frustrations keep us waiting for resolutions. Wch come & go like phantoms. Things aren't ALWAYS fucked up - just enuf to keep us guessing. I suppose this is where he's closest to Blanchot & furthest from everyone else I mentioned. Where Highsmith takes us down an inexorable road to misery & destruction, Ishiguro lets some sunlight in from time-to-time.

The pianist is talked about in front of his face in the most revealingly manipulative & unflattering ways but he's lead by the nose ANYWAY. It's not so much that he doesn't notice, he, after all, appears to hear everything 'fine' - it's more like he exists in an alternate universe where he doesn't have the sense to revolt against his obvious manipulation. & then he does. There's no satisfactory generalization.

&, again, this is the author's manipulation of the reader. Ishiguro knows that this is LITERATURE. It doesn't have to be anything in particular. He makes the rules, or the lack thereof, & then we, the readers, face the consequences. & he's damned good at it!

Ishiguro has learned his lessons well from horror.. or from Highsmith.. create a situation where the resolution is easily accessible &, perhaps, DESPERATELY hoped for by the reader.. TEASE the reader.. but don't deliver the goods.. let the reader stew in the frustration, in the stupidity. The writerly manipulation is almost SHAMEFUL. Ishiguro will suck the reader in at any cost to their sanity.

Some of the passages are so amorphous that, despite their being written w/ clear words, they almost melt into each other. The pianist is taken somewhere to practice & it just so happens that this is where he's promised to be for some other purpose. He drives a long way only to be back where he started. It's like dream sequences in a 1950s film where the protaganist is running but, at great difficulty to the special effects people, where he's running just recedes further & further away.

If only Freud were alive now. I'd love to read his review of this. I will definitely be reading more by Ishiguro.. but not anytime soon. ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
I bought this book because the author won the Nobel Prize, and the bookseller told me it is a good book.
However, while this may be an allegory on people fascinated by celebrity, and an allegory of celebrities whose lives are out of control, it is also a book with no tale.

It went on and on and on, and then stopped. Methinks, the author ran out of ink, or imagination. Or he just got tired of writing. I huffed and puffed my way through the book and felt relieved when it ended. ( )
  RajivC | Nov 19, 2021 |
Maelstrom. ( )
  jaydenmccomiskie | Sep 27, 2021 |
Just infuriating. The long monologues of banality and missed opportunities made me laugh and cringe. I can see it is a great book, but I didn't want to experience the tedium and missed opportunities at what felt like first-hand much of the time. ( )
  farflungfish | Sep 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (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)
 

» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kazuo Ishiguroprimary authorall editionscalculated
Case, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lorenz, IsabellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Lorna and Naomi
First words
The taxi driver seemed embarrassed to find there was no one - not even a clerk behind the reception desk - waiting to welcome me.
Quotations
‘To be perfectly fair, it’s not their fault. The modern forms, they’re so complex now. Kazan, Mullery, Yoshimoto. Even for a trained musician such as myself, it’s hard now, very hard. The likes of von Winterstein, the Countess, what chance do they have? They’re completely out of their depth. To them it’s just crashing noise, a whirl of strange rhythms. Perhaps they’ve convinced themselves over the years they can hear something there, certain emotions, meanings. But the truth is, they’ve found nothing at all. They’re out of their depth, they’ll never understand how modern music works. Once it was simply Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky. Even the man in the street could make a reasoned guess about that sort of music. But the modern forms! How can people like this, untrained, provincial people, how can they ever understand such things, however great a sense of duty they feel towards the community? It’s hopeless,
‘My own view is that Kazan never benefits from formalised restraints. Neither from the circular dynamic, nor even a doublebar structure. There are simply too many layers, too many emotions, especially in the later works.’
One should not, in any case, attempt to make a virtue out of one’s limitations.’
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Ryder, a renowned pianist, arrives in a Central European city he cannot identify for a concert he cannot remember agreeing to give. But then as he traverses a landscape by turns eerie and comical - and always strangely malleable, as a dream might be - he comes steadily to realise he is facing the most crucial performance of his life. Ishiguro's extraordinary study of a man whose life has accelerated beyond his control was met on publication by consternation, vilification - and the highest praise.

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Book description
Haiku summary
What is happening?
They answered they did not know.
Ishiguro laughs.
(auldhouse)

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