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Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Unconsoled (1995) by Kazuo Ishiguro

Book Review
The Unconsoled (1995)
by Kazuo Ishiguro

  2017 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro is not prolific when it comes to his output.  The Unconsoled was published in 1995, more than six years after The Remains of the Day signaled his real arrival on the international literary stage (The Remains of the Day was his third novel, after A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986).   Upon publication, The Unconsoled was reviewed with bafflement.  View positive reviews were forthcoming, many critics called The Unconsoled incomprehensible.  A decade later, the tide shifted, and The Unconsoled was making it onto many "best of the century" type lists.  Now of course, we have The Nobel Prize for Literature as well as the many stylistic and thematic similarities between The Unconsoled and The Buried Giant, the last novel Ishiguro wrote before he on the Nobel Prize.

  Set in an unnamed Central European city that mostly resembles Vienna, The Unconsoled follows world-renowned pianist Ryder as he arrives into town to give an important performance.  That one sentence is just about the only fact that can be written about the plot of The Unconsoled without discussing Ishiguro's extraordinary use of memory in this book.  Ryder isn't exactly an amnesiac, but he can't remember many, many important facts which confront him as he tries to "Make it the Greek," so to speak.   All of The Unconsoled is shrouded in the same kind of (metaphorical) fog that drapes filmic representations of Vienna in films like The Third Man.   The most amazing aspect of The Unconsoled is that the narrator and reader learn less as the book moves along.  Confusion and disorientation seems to be the avowed goal of Ishiguro, and in that regard he certainly succeeds.

  Connecting it to his other books, a reader can see that Ishiguro is concerned with the unreliability of memory. What are the consequences to our personality when we either specific memories, or even the ability to know that we have lost memories. And whether the reader enjoys the experience or not, it is impossible to argue that The Unconsoled isn't another worthy take on this theme.  Fun reading though, it is not.

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