New blog entry on some Red Sox and Mets prospects in the NY Penn League is up. My hit from this afternoon with Colin Cowherd is also online. I’ve filed my reaction to the Blue Jays/Braves trade, so it should be along shortly.
One of you warned me about Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, but I believe I already had it on my shelf at the time and I’m pretty stubborn about at least trying books once I’ve obtained them. And it was a pretty quick read given its heft. But not only is it my least favorite of the four Ishiguro novels I’ve read, it’s just a conceptual mess that takes an interesting premise reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and forgets to flesh it out into a complete story.
The plot revolves around Mr. Ryder, a renowned concert pianist who has just arrived in an unnamed Central European town for a performance, only to find himself sidetracked by an endless series of errands and other unfinished business, because the town is populated by people he’s met before, even including a girlfriend and a sort of stepson, but he doesn’t remember any of this. Time bends in odd ways, people act and react strangely, and monologues go on for pages and pages. And the town seems to define its identity by the status of its best musicians, having cast one aside when his style fell out of vogue and a new star arrived, only to find the latter to be a broken man and a drunk.
It seemed clear to me from early on in The Unconsoled that Ishiguro was writing a realistic novel within the world of dreams – the abrupt transitions from scene to scene, the fact that two buildings on opposite sides of the town turned out to be one and the same, the way items could change within a room over the course of a conversation, and the frequent situation that should be familiar to all of you of Ryder’s inability to get to someone he’s left behind or forgotten about or just needs to reach. If that was the author’s intent, he was successful, as I was off balance almost the entire novel because various conventions of the realistic novel no longer applied.
But the execution suffered in two ways: One, Ryder’s actions became extremely frustrating. He’d fail to say or do obvious things to alleviate bad situations, such as the time a childhood friend wants to show him off to her snobby friends who doubt she knows Ryder, only to have him come along but do nothing to reveal his identity. He’s rude and even cold to the boy, Boris, to whom he is something of a father figure, and often leaves Boris on his own inappropriately. It was maddening, even more than in a novel where the main character is simply unlikeable. In this novel, he’s unreadable.
Two, the end of the novel does not answer the key question: If this is all a dream for Ryder, what on earth does it mean? Are all of these people real, or merely manifestations within his brain of stages of his life? Stephan, a young pianist, can’t seem to satisfy his parents through his music, as they insist on seeing him as a disappointment; is that Ryder’s own experience as a young man? Why does Ryder spend much of the novel fretting over the arrangements for his parents, who are coming in to see the performance, only to find out (or be reminded) that there’s no evidence they’re coming at all? Why are there at least four or five of his friends from his youth in England living in this small Central European town, all acting like little time has passed? I read the book expecting some kind of a resolution at the end, either an explicit one (e.g., Ryder wakes up) or an implicit one (e.g., Ryder starts to identify some of the parallels between the dream-world and his own past), but I got nothing, not even hints at Ryder’s pre-visit life to help me make the connections myself.
I love Ishiguro’s prose, but in The Unconsoled his dialogue was out of control, with the aforementioned long monologues (one lasted at least five pages, with not so much as a paragraph break) and very frequent repetition of phrases or meaningless points. His prose was far more in control in The Remains of the Day, and after The Unconsoled he wrote another altered-reality novel that was tighter and much more compelling, Never Let Me Go.
Next up: Geraldine Brooks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning March.