Monday, March 14, 2011

DNF: Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled

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 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.

1 comment:

  1. This book is WELL worth the read. Without giving anything away, I would suggest that an interested reader practice the old "willing suspension of disbelief" and allow himself to fully enter the world Ishiguro creates in this book. The sense of confusion that many readers mention is an integral part of the author's communication of his themes. I couldn't put it down; this book is a masterpiece.

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