Monday, October 25, 2004

Kazuo Ishiguro and The Unconsoled

Am distraught that Shamya’s beaten me to it; thought I had the cosmological right to be the first ever to blog on Kazuo Ishiguro. I console myself that since I got him interested in the first place, the moral victory, in cricketing parlance, is mine. Nevertheless, I have dallied enough and must now put down my own thoughts on the man who I usually designate my favourite living writer (with a few qualifications: Rushdie’s non-fiction and Philip Roth being among them).

I came to Kazuo Ishiguro, oddly enough, through cinema. I had just seen Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins in an incredibly moving performance (far better, I thought, than his throwaway Hannibal Lecter) and something about the film made me want to read the book on which it was based (something that rarely happened in those days). So I went out and got it, and read it, and liked it as much as I’d liked the film. That was about all. This was 1994 or thereabouts, my beat was still cinema rather than literature, and I was hardly into contemporary writing at the time anyway.(I use "my beat" in a manner of speaking, for I was still years away from writing reviews professionally.)

As the time, I should add, I thought of Remains of the Day (the book) not as something that was part of a particular writer’s oeuvre but as an independent work that I had perchance stumbled upon. My interest in it was limited to its connection with the movie and much as I enjoyed it, it didn't make me want to read anything else by this (sniff) living writer, a man who was only around 40 years old at the time. (I had my Melville, I had my Dickens, I had my books on cinema.)

Seven years later, I came upon Ishiguro’s latest book, When We Were Orphans, bought it on pure whim and finished it by the next day, and that’s when my fascination with the man began. Within a fortnight, I had read his 1986 novel An Artist of the Floating World and I knew I was hooked.

What is it about Ishiguro? To me, his work (along with that of Somerset Maugham’s to an extent) exemplifies the truth of the adage that simplicity can be very deceptive. His writing style is so direct compared with that of his contemporaries (think of the first Granta list of best young British writers in 1983: Ishiguro in the company of Rushdie, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Margaret Atwood among others) that you’ll never once have to reach for a dictionary or even pore over a sentence while reading one of his novels. But his narratives are tricky things: they deal mostly with the unreliability and subjectivity of memories, and it’s only by putting oneself in the writer’s position that one can appreciate the concentration of effort required to tie the various plot strands together. His protagonists/narrators search futilely for the defining moments in their lives and come up against dead ends; and his work is marked by the repeated use of words like "indeed" and "considerably" that may seem genteel (leading to much criticism of Ishiguro as overly mannered) but that are also very well-suited to narrators who are introspective and uncertain about themselves. And there is a turbulence of unexpressed emotions in his work that never ceases to grip my attention.

My regard for Ishiguro reached high tide when I read his longest, and most underappreciated, novel, The Unconsoled. I would think 20 times before venturing to set down even the most informal, free-flowing list of my favourite books, but if I ever got around to it The Unconsoled would be very near the top. This is a dream of a book that also just happens to be one of the best, purest examples of surrealist art I’ve ever come across (the soft spot I have for that movement helped my appreciation of this novel).

While there is no change in Ishiguro’s writing style (it’s stayed the same through all five of his books so far), The Unconsoled is different from all his other work in that it doesn’t permit a "logical reading". Well, actually, the book does give the impression of having a formal structure. It’s about a world-renowned pianist who has come to a (unnamed) central European city to give an important performance, one that somehow also has political connotations for the people of the city. But the narrator, Mr Ryder, seems to have arrived with his mind a clean slate. He learns things about himself and his reason for being in this place only as he goes along: he doesn’t know anything about his schedule and has to be gently rebuked by the organisers; little annoyances and distractions continually detract from his main purpose, although he himself appears unaware of what exactly that purpose is; he meets an unfamiliar woman and her child and begins a conversation with them, o nly to realise after a few minutes that they might be his own estranged wife and son; he encounters figures from his distant past who he hasn’t seen in years, and who have no logical reason for being here; and he meets other people who could be real or could be versions of himself at different stages in his life.

One way of looking at it, I suppose, is that the central character suffers from a form of short-term memory loss (a la the protagonist in the film Memento). But that explanation doesn’t even begin to provide the key to all of The Unconsoled’s mysteries. Ishiguro plays with time and space: a porter delivers a 4-page monologue during an elevator ride that should have taken no more than a few seconds; a hotel employee takes Ryder to the "annexe" which turns out to be a ramshackle hut atop a hill, several minutes’ drive from the hotel; after an exhausting day, Ryder goes to sleep at what seems a perfectly reasonable hour, only to be woken a few minutes later so he can "see to the next item on the agenda". On a conventional plane, the book just doesn’t hold together. This is indeed a nightmare of dislocation, as a reviewer put it.

And yet, remarkably enough, Ishiguro’s themes shine through this confused tapestry. This very enigmatic book is, among other things, about the unrealistic, often debilitating expectations parents have of their children, the demands of a life lived in the public glare, and the myopia that allows people to substitute superficial rewards for the things that really matter (in this context, the novel’s ending, with Ryder happily regarding a sumptuous buffet laid out in front of him in a city tram, blew me away).

Despite my own fascination with this book, I can understand others not getting drawn into it the way I was. Persusing it the other day, I realised that entire passages are very frustrating (from a structural point of view, you have to be at least a little interested in surrealism, otherwise the irritation level is very high). I also have this theory that if it’s the first Ishiguro you read, you’ll hate it. Besides, the themes have to appeal to you, otherwise you’ll be left cold. (Something I haven’t mentioned about the book, incidentally, is that it is also very very funny in parts. But that, again, is if you get drawn into its very strange world.)

Ishiguro publishes a new novel once every five years on average. His next, titled Never Let Me Go (sounds like a Mills & Boon, wot?), is due in March 2005. Come February you’ll find me camping outside the nearest IBH warehouse with blankets, hot-water bottles and a (considerably) silly grin on my face.

48 comments:

  1. Came across this very interesting comment on Remains of the Day - film and book. This is the link to Ishiguro's interview: http://www.januarymagazine.com/profiles/ishiguro.html (BTW, the writer in the interview and the writer I visualised from reading his books are very different.)

    "I think it's a very good film. It's a different work from mine. It's James Ivory's Remains of the Day which is related to my Remains of the Day. Actually my literary agent in London said that she thought the main difference was -- and this was very perceptive. I would have never come up with anything as insightful as this -- she said: The movie is about emotional repression. But the book is about self-denial. And that's the crucial difference, she said. And I thought: yes, that's probably right. They are crucially different themes."

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  2. I loved "A Pale View of the Hills" and "An Artist of the Floating World." His language is exceedingly beautiful, and I have read "Remains of the Day" (best title ever, or what?) no less than five times. I'm sure I'll read it a few times more. It was for a long time my favorite novel (and, behind "Pnin" and "The Blue Flower", still in my top three). And the movie that was made of it was amazingly good, and I've also seen that several times.

    But, somehow and to my great sorrow, it stopped happening for me after that. I never delved into "the Unconsoled" (I put it down to reading too many reviews of the thing), and "When We Were Orphans", which I read about half-way, was curiously flat and (I hesitate to say it) boring.

    I think the main thing is that *I* have changed, and Ishiguro hasn't, not really. The language, which is beguiling and elegant at first, gets cloying later on, and is rather fusty and mannered (as, no doubt, others have pointed out). Not that I don't love old-fashioned stuff, but not when it becomes a stylistic tic.

    Anyhow, my favorite novelist now is Penelope Fitzgerald, whose "The Blue Flower", "The Bookshop" and "The Beginning of Spring" are as good a trio of books as I can imagine ever issuing from the pen of a single writer.

    But, before I let you be, I should mention that I'm finding myself more and more influenced by Nabokov's notion that there aren't really great authors, only great books. Some authors, life shows us, write a number of great books. "The Remains of the Day" remains one of the greatest great books of our time, and it is still a wonder to me that something so quiet should have so powerful a voice.

    elck
    vernacularbody.typepad.com

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  3. Just finished reading The Unconsoled last night. It was my first time reading Kazuo Ishiguro, and it is already in my list of top ten favourites.
    You mentioned your theory about hating him if that was the first book read, but I loved it, and I don't know much at all about surrealism, etc. He's a really talented author and I loved his unique style of writing.

    Not trying to prove your theories wrong but, just had to give Ishiguro credit there! He's one talented author, that's for sure. (you were right though, the irritation factor did climb a little at times when the dialogue got carried away. The strangeness of it all kept me hooked, though).

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  4. Anonymous: good to hear! I think that theory came largely out of my protectiveness for the book. But I do wonder now if you'll be able to enjoy Ishiguro's more linear, 'realistic' narratives - mainly Remains of the Day and An Artist of the Floating World. You'll probably like A Pale View of Hills though.

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  5. Where did you see 'Remains of the Day' ?
    Any idea where we can get the vcs/dvd for this in India...after just now finishing the novel, Im very keen to watch the movie..

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  6. Dips: I used to have the "Remains..." videocassette. I imagine you'd get the DVD quite easily - in Delhi at least, it would be available at Palika Bazaar.
    HBO used to show the film quite a bit too.

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  7. Sadly, HBO has disappeared from our cable these days..
    And..I dont think Crossword would be having these..as they generally cater to mass taste.. though I cant complain much as I bought the book from there only..
    Thanks..

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  8. the myopia that allows people to substitute superficial rewards for the things that really matter (in this context, the novel’s ending, with Ryder happily regarding a sumptuous buffet laid out in front of him in a city tram, blew me away)

    I'm in two minds about this. Yes, the ending is a lapse into wish-fulfilment on Ryder's part; its relatively trivial (and provisional) quality contrasts with the emotional depths that he's at least glanced into (most recently in that unbearably poignant scene with the tourist poster). Having said that, it is fulfilment of a sort - look at all the scenes in the book where he's about to sit down and relax, or about to have something to eat, and never quite manages it. I think it cuts both ways. (This is very much my favourite Ishiguro, and one of my favourite novels.)

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  9. Have you ever read Orwell's 1984? If so, you will know of Room 101: the place where you are confronted with your worst fears by your enemy, Big Brother, place of the fears that break you, that make you renounce everything you are, make you worship those you hate, make you kill those you love. Room 101 is the ultimate in torture.

    Anyway, Room 101. I have sometimes wondered what would be in my own Room 101: that gerbil-sized dog that snapped my ankles last summer? That awful thigh-cramp after those four squash games in three days? Bananas (my most hated food) with a sauce of petroleum (my least favourite smell) - force fed? Killer bees?

    Now I have the answer: it is this Kazuo Ishiguro novel called 'The Unconsoled'. With each sentence my guts are repulsed to the point of bullimia, each paragraph suggests to my fists acts of self-harm. How, otherwise, could such evil present itself to my poor, tired eyes, by my supposedly-innocent page-turning arm? I am 50 pages through, 1/10th of the novel, or so. Hell knows, the rest may kill me. Half may, even. God it looks tempting, the kitchen window...

    Why am I reading it? On a recommendation, much like this one. Amazingly, the reviews on the back of the book suggest others share such high opinion of this work: "A masterpiece", agree The 'Doublethink' Times with Anita 'Miniluv' Brookner. Possibly I should read their whole reviews; perhaps, in a moment of improbable sanity thoroughly out of kilter with the modern world, they continue "A masterpiece ... of post-
    medieval torture, equally as painful (if not more so) as thumbscrews, flogging and the rack."

    Oh God, I hate it. I mean, how hard is literature? If a thicko like Martin Amis can almost do it, then surely anyone can. Literature is the writing of what it is to be someone else other than you, the reader; it is knowledge of the human made compelling through the artfulness of the writer. There is often a trade-off, the achievement of mere adequacy, and poetry is something different again; but, anyway, the best literature maximizes both of these dimensions: sometimes through genius, when it is classic. This book, on the other hand, minimizes both of these dimensions, which leads me to another question. I mean, how hard is office-work? If you can't write literature, do office-work. Or something. Just don't waste my time with your waste of time.

    "An original and remarkable genius", says The New York Times Book Review. "Much like the Spannish Inquisition", one can only hope the review added.

    I post this as a warning: keep away from this work. As an antidote I hope, Jabberwock.

    No offence.

    Tom.

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  10. tom you nonce. the unconsoled is a masterpiece and you are an idiot.

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  11. Don't take the Unconsoled as a typical example of KI's work.

    I hated reading it, yet think about it more than any other book I've ever read. It's a dream, a fucking bad one at that, but beautiful.

    'Never let me go' is something else.
    Still beautiful, but at least readable. Sorry I can't be more encouraging, but I'm a fool.

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  12. The Unconsoled was trash.

    The emperor has no clothes.

    "Hey, you guys, I just had the weirdest dream. Oh, you know would be cool? If I wrote a book just like my weird dreams, but used it to slam my mom, my ex-wife, and every other woman who kept me from being as talented as I should be!"

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  13. I am surprised you are not tempted to delete comments off your blog sometimes.

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  14. A few days ago while i was reading your blog i came across your entry for 'the brooklyn follies', in which you mentioned Kazuo as one of your favourite authors. taking that as a recommendation and testimony enough i went out in search of his works. the oxford bookstore in bombay had only 'the unconsoled' in stock, and i wanted to have some insight into him at any cost possible, i bought the book.

    what struck me at the very first moment was that the book approaches real time in litearture like no other book i have read till now. you see it in movies, like run lola run, you see it in computers, but hardly ever one would come across such a thing in literature. i was hooked on from the moment it became evident that theres something incredibly strange in the book, in the first 20 pages when ryder describes what happened in the life of gustav while meeting him for the first time.

    after that the book remained a roller coaster ride into the apt term, surrealism. the build up towards the last few pages is fully worth the 4 page conversations between strangely reminiscent characters of the book, and it kept me on tenterhooks all the time. i disagree with most of the people who call the book boring or tedious. every author has his style of writing, and although i am yet to read more works by this person, i am sure i would enjoy every one of them. maybe it is the same reason i dislike rushdie and havent been able to pick up another of his book after fury and midnights children.

    but then again, the unconsoled is without a doubt one of the most engrossing reads i have come across, leaving a person more and more bewildered.

    thanks a million for introducing me to his works.

    Saurabh

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  15. Thanks for the comment, Saurabh. I never cease to be thrilled when The Unconsoled has a similar effect on someone else - because it really isn't the sort of book you expect others to feel the same way about.

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  16. http://www.qlrs.com/essay.asp?id=394

    Makes for an interesting read.

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  17. I have told quite a number of people that 'The Unconsoled' is my favourite book, and I am just now re-reading it to confirm why, before continuing to encourage others to take it up.

    I have read the comments here and agree that the expansion and shrinkage of time Ishiguro employs is quite remarkable (though I had not associated it with surrealism so much as post-structuralism). but what of his merging of first person main character with narrator? Ryder not only follows the conversation between Stephan and Miss Collins into the house and through to other rooms, whilst remaining in the front seat of a car (we are reminded, by reference to Boris in the back seat), but he speaks with Stephan about something which he could not have known - the contents of stephans thoughts, a memory, and the details of the thoughts contained in that memory, as a matter of course.

    this work engages us in a deconstruction of not only the literary narrative model, but to some extent, of our lved experience, and languaging of it. it overlaps with the non-linear dance of imaginings which is our experience as complex beings, the interplay of memory and space and time, much more than any linear depiction of reality. I like to think that this endeavour was purposeful!

    more than these literary devices, as profound as they might be (and, all achieved with the most secular expression - making the ordinary so extraordinary), he so painfully explicates the conditions that humans impose upon themselves: saying/doing everything but what needs to be said/done, even trying to convince oneself of the reality of the fiction that must be conjured to justify the maltreatment of another, which has served the purpose of mearly shifting a sense of discomfort lodged in place during childhood. the hampster incident left me utterly despairing.

    neuropsychology anyone?

    a metaphor for life, perhaps - the continuous distraction from the purpose at hand, without knowledge of what it is, this formidable schedule to meet, the flux of time, the interminable influx of strangers who expect recognition, and familials who never cease to avoid our recognition.

    who am I? where am I? what am I supposed to be doing? who are you? profound questions that this novel has enriched for me, without offering any answers. movement away from the known, toward the unknowable.

    which bit did you miss, Tom?

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  19. So far I read only two Ishiguro's novels: A Pale View of Hills and Never Let Me Go, and loved them both. It is amazing how Ishiguro tells such profound complex stories employing this simple narrative and quite tone. Very few writers are able to do that.

    Anyway, I visited this blog because I'm trying to come up with a good title for my graduation thesis in english literature. I will definitely opt for Ishiguro, still have to decide which books I will focus on. I was thinking of drawing some connections btw The Unconsoled and A Pale View of Hills because of the theme of unreliable memory and so on. However, that's why I found your blog pretty helpful. Your review on the book really made me wanna read The Unconsoled. If you have some suggestions for the topic you're more then welcome to express your ideas.

    Liz

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  20. i wander if it was called "the Remains of the HAY" it would be about horses! LOlz.

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  21. Came across your blog when googling The Unconsoled. I must say from reading all of the reviews it looked very promising, but there is something to be said about your theory of hating Ishiguro if it was your first book by him. I think I'm going to read through it again, though - I got to the first 200 pages and then skipped ahead (shame, shame) to the end, when the dreaded Thursday night finally comes.

    It's compelling, but frustrating at the same time, fascinating when you look at it from a analytical, psycological view. Maybe it'll become a favorite once I fully understand surrealism. I don't know.

    There were times when I wanted to chuck it out the window, from the want of Mr Ryder to make the right decisions, wanting to delve in the story and shake him out of his helplessness. It's purely quixotic at times.

    I don't understand what you mean by the book being funny. At the very end of the book I could see some of the twisted, black hilarity that was mentioned in one of the reviews, but other than that it's pretty bizarre. I think I'll search out Remains of the day and see where it goes from there. But I'll eventually get back to The Unconsoled...

    Thanks~

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  22. This blog post is 5 years old, but I've only just read it after googling The Unconsoled after finishing the book (just like one of the comments above) and still feel compelled to contribute.

    This is my first Ishiguro novel, I was recommended it due to my interest in surrealism and I loved it. I can completely understand most peoples problems with it, it's a somewhat frustrating book to read, it's long winded but beautifully written diversions and looseness in physical time and space could trouble many who feel safer with more formulaic storytelling.

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  23. I, too, came across this site after having finished The Unconsoled just yesterday. I'd had this book in my bookshelf a good ten years before I was finally able to get past the first ten pages, but when I did, I was hooked. It was my first Ishiguro, and it won't be my last... this book will stay in my psyche forever. I have to say, though, I had my problems with it as well. Just about halfway through, I slammed the thing down and vowed to pitch it into the nearest dumpster; I couldn't stand the ignorance of most of the characters. Their utter obliviousness, along with Ryder's, was the closest thing to literary torture I've ever experienced. I wanted to shake them, scream at them. But a few days later I realized I needed to stick with it, and shortly after I did, I realized that these characters' glaring stupidity mirrors our own in so many ways... the ways in which our minds carry us off in a thousand different directions every day, the ways we trample each other's hearts without even knowing it... the revelations, if you are open to them, are deep and chuckle-worthy. This book revealed itself to me like a flower, the connections between Ryder's own younger self and Steven, and perhaps even Boris (could they all be the same person!?) This is the sort of revelation I need from my books. It's where I get the clearest view of myself and the world, and I thank Kazuo profusely for the mind-blowing experience he's given me. Which of his novels will be next? I'm off to the bookstore...

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  24. This book has been one of the more difficult reads for me, but a thoroughly rewarding one. Random House in its review of the book has posted discussion questions worth pondering over (many of them are already discussed in the posts above)

    They can be found in this link

    http://www.randomhouse.com/vintage/read/unconsoled/

    This is much like the questions we used to find at the end of chapters during schooldays :-). This sort of thing should contribute to the depth of reading (although at the cost of breadth since you would spend ore time on the same book).

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  25. i just finished this book, and im so glad i persevered - i had started it several times, but wasnt in the right frame of mind to deal with the frankly quite challenging narrative - the start of the book isnt overly complex or anything, but i just found myself a little annoyed that the story was going in a direction in which i would be forced to do some work. Its not a beach novel basically.

    As i mentioned though, im so glad i kept going - it still required work, i think i was a third of the way through the book before i became aware that i was reading a truly heartbreaking and uncomfortable insight into the failings of us all. I was constantly reminded of the film Synendoche, New York - which i recommend if you havent seen it. Again, an overwhelming work, and more clumsy than The Uconsoled, but containing scenes of similar power. The book i feel had so much insight into relationships with lovers, parents, pain, loss - Hoffman and his wife, Stephan, Brodsky and Miss Collins.... these moments were incredible for me.

    the dream of a narrative allowed the author to make these points, in which a whole lifetime of pain,dreams, achievements,relationships, love and loss is compressed into three days in the life of a flawed central figure.

    the final scene was mesmerising - in my eyes, summing up the human condition perfectly, describing us all at the buffet, which somehow manages to dull the memories and pain of our existences. Truly phenomenal writing.

    A true work of genius, and im happy to read your thoughts on it.

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  26. Sam333, Sid, KG and others: thanks for the comments. I suppose it says something about the very particular appeal of this remarkable book that so many readers feel compelled to share their views on it - even on a blog post that's five years old. Rereading the post, I realise there's so much more I could say about the book - but where does one start!

    One interesting thing is that though The Unconsoled was the only one of Ishiguro's novels not to win or be shortlisted for a major literary prize, its reputation has grown greatly in the last few years - especially among other writers. It placed very high in a Guardian poll of best novels of the last 25 years.

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  27. well, actually this was my first Ishiguro book (sorry to disagree with your theory!) and I loved it - I would very much like your recommendation on which one to read next...im intrigued by this author to say the least, but I fear I may of read his greatest book first!

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  28. Just finished reading the unconsoled for book club only no one else has actually finished it! It provoked quite an angry reaction from the group!
    I found it made me feel physically distressed as the time and spaces shifted so violently! It captured exactly the sickening sensation I get from bad dreams.
    The food in particular reminded me of dream sequences where the anticipation and associations of the food are key.
    So many unanswered questions. Was Mr Ryder all the male characters? Were they real pieces of music? Was anyone else reminded of Alice in Wonderland with funny shaped doors etc?
    Finally - though some of it was hard to read some of it was laugh out loud. Statue to Mr Brodskys dog a case in point.
    Thanks for your review. Very interesting

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  29. Those interested in further exploring the novel can read the thesis “The Madman is a Waking Dreamer” on the following link

    https://bora.uib.no/handle/1956/3321

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  30. I wish I could go back in time and unread this book. And for me that is saying a lot as I will read anything and my favourite books (e.g. Dune, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Poisonwood Bible, or anything by John Irving) I have reread literally dozens of times.
    But while I loved Never Let Me Go, having read The Unconsoled I will in future be avoiding Ishiguro like the plague.

    Not only is the style of this book the literary equivalent of a bowl of cold, solidified porridge, the main character is distinctly repulsive and unlikeable and while this could have been rectified had he been even slightly interesting (e.g. Filth by Irvine Welsh; the main character is foul and loathsome in every way but at least he was interesting!!!), Ishiguro saw fit to create in Mr Ryder the flattest, most one-dimensional and utterly boring character I have ever had the misfortune to meet in all of the thousands of books I have read.

    I never comment on reviews as I feel it is up to each reader to make up their own mind but I am slightly hating Ishiguro for the time he has taken from me which I will not get back. I have read some of the reviews of the people who seem to like The Unconsoled and all I can say is they must be so far up themselves they have not actually taken in any of the book!

    I will have to rinse this nasty aftertaste out of my head with a decent read.

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  31. This book is certainly my favourite novel of all time so far. I read it for the first time in about 2007 and I've just read it for a second time (in May 2010). It was even better the second time round.

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  32. I found the film Remains of the Day so boring that I haven't bothered to read the novel. The first book i read by Kazuo was 'When we were Orphans' and although I enjoyed the bookI was disappointed with the ending. His memory was so unrealistic and unbalanced that I expected him to spend his final days in the country in an aslyum not in a rose covered cottage.
    I loved 'Never Let Me Go. I was looking forward to reading more. It was really brilliant! The kind of book I am sorry to finish and feel at a loss without.
    But then came 'The Unconsoled'. My friend said, 'it is readd a great book, very enjoyable'!!! A hundred pages into I called her, 'Does this continue like this or is there some revelation about what is happening? It is driving me MAD. Is he a in the middle of a breakdown? Are these people real? Are they all inmates of a lunatic aslyum that he calls the hotel? Is Stephan himself? Are there many versions of himself? Is Boris really a child and his child? What the hell is going on?? Is there ever a concert? Is he really a pianist?? AHHHH!!!
    She sai, 'If anything it gets worse, but I really loved it.'
    I did what I have never done before in my life I skipped pages and scanned it to the end and read the final three chapters, more madness, legless drunk with an ironing board!!! breakfast obsession everywhere, LET ME OUT!!!
    All you insane fans may you all be locked up and enjoy your madness together!!!

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  33. I LOVE this book. It's my favourite book!

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  34. So, here I am at 1:30 in the morning having just stayed up well past my bedtime to finish The Unconsoled. And I must admit, it was a hoot. I read several passages out loud to my roommates because I simply couldn't contain the hilarity of the proceedings. Every other page it seemed I was exclaiming, "what?! what the heck is going on? why on earth..." and my roommates would pop their heads into the room and excitedly ask me to read another paragraph out loud to them. This is the first time I've ever sought out reviews about a book, probably because this is the strangest book I've ever read. Sure, it was ridiculously frustrating. I squirmed in my chair during long pointless monologues, and quickly resigned myself to the realization that nothing was actually going to be explained in the end. But, in the end, I don't think it really needed explaining. It simply was what it was, and now it's done, and that's that. I won't forget it anytime soon, that's for sure!

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  35. I've read Mary Rose's review. I think the mistakes she's making is in expecting anything to "happen". That isn't necessary in a novel unless one is reading an adventure book or something similar.

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  36. It is two years since I read "The Unconsoled", but its memory still haunts me. I moved through confusion to disbelief, then the conviction that it was just a dream- but was it? Things we cannot understand remain longer in the memory; in a fisherman's terms, the one we remember best is the one that got away.
    I am working my way through the rest of his books, but the first so far is his best.

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  37. The Unconsoled has to be one of the finest books I've read. The pain, the continuous jarring notes, the frustrations,the presumptiousness, the pettiness and indecisiveness of it all, takes place in such an apparantly accommodating and leisurely way! I felt all the above deeply. It has reminded me of how we are. Of how I am, I suppose.

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  38. I agree, with above and with a lot of what others have written before on this blog.
    It does not seem to me to be surrealist but rather an attempt at a straight description of what life is like. As others have said I think about the book a lot and feel that my life is like this, I do not understand what is going on about me most of the time but somehow manage to move on through it all. At work today I told my colleagues I felt like I was living this book, so after our meeting I went to see what people were writing about it on the internet and found this blog. Funny, yes very at times; you feel you have to go on reading, that somehow if you keep going you will be able to make some sense of it all. But the further you go the less that seems lkely to happen and you need to accept it and enjoy it.
    Simon

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  39. Two-thirds of the way through +The Unconsoled+ for the second time. I read it about 5 years ago, loved it (in a slightly masochistic way) and had to nerve myself to read it again. It's less visceral the second time but still great.

    The scene where Fiona takes Ryder to meet her mocking neighbours and Ryder can't announce who he is, is still so brilliantly frustrating that I had to skip most of it.

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  40. The character Ryder spends three days walking around a city, never quite doing anything, never making the grand speech everyone praises, never ultimately giving the performance he is there to give.

    Is this book a metaphor for itself?

    Emperors new clothes about sums it up for me, too.

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  41. I actually feel kind of sorry for the people who have such a fetish for order and such a need for "right explanations" that they were unable, and apparently constitutionally unwilling, to surrender themselves to the sheer surreal beauty of this novel.

    Whenever I don't understand a book that others are speaking highly yet intelligently of, I generally try to have the humility to keep my mouth mostly shut and, if I can, listen to find out what they saw in the work. The "Emperor's Wardrobe Club" could use a few gallons of such humility.

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  42. Good to read many comments from people who either love or hate The Unconsoled. I just completed a second reading and consider it one of the best books I have ever read. My criterion being a book that holds my interest throughout and takes me places I have not been before. I am also a sucker for dreamscapes and surrealistic situations, which abound in The Unconsoled.
    My take on Ryder is that he is neither omniscient nor a fool; he is a memory. He exists only in so far as people believe him to be of service, but he has no path of his own. His own 'agenda' is thwarted repeatedly, and his moment of greatest value is ignored. Ryder only seems to exist as a catalyst for other people's concerns.
    Is he really there? Yes and no. This is a work of brilliance, maddeningly so.

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  43. Thanks for the wonderful review on the book. Like many others, I Just finished reading The Unconsoled and feel so much turmoils inside and hence search for reviews and found this blog.

    And after reading the unconsoled really makes me the unconsoled.
    The intertwining of reality and dream-like state is so beautiful yet painful and haunting. I felt so much frustration while following Ryder around yet I can easily identify and sympathize with him, it has too much resemblance to our everyday life. Love and hate the book at the same time like many do. It looks deconstructed yet there are alarmingly loud themes playing with identity, memory, control, loss... which are the very things bring us through the days of our life.

    I'm not sure if i read it right, i feel that the book is mocking at the feebleness and superficiality of life.

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  44. It's funny and reviling at the same time to see how many people ended here the very same way I just did.
    After finishing "The Unconsoled" I couldn't really stop to think about it and wondered whether there maybe was an interview with Ishiguro about it like the one about "Never let me go". Well, there wasn't. However, I came across this page. Although English is not even my mother tongue (which you probably figured out by now), I needed to continue reading his books once I've started. Like many others I've started with "The remains of the day", continued with "When we were orphans" and so on... I can't tell which novel I like most - in my opinion each one is brilliant.
    I did like the English language before reading Ishiguro, but now I inevitably love it.
    As for "The Unconsoled" I can't help but admire how someone can create such an atmosphere that simply gets you. Even though you never really know what’s actually happening, there is a certain atmosphere and after a while you realise how it somehow influences your thoughts. Especially for me as a foreigner it is difficult to describe what I really mean. Nevertheless, I highly recommend “The Unconsoled” and of course his other novels as well. It shows you the beauty of the English language, and gives you lots of stuff to think about!

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  45. My first introduction to Ishiguro was through The Unconsoled, and I tend to agree with everything you've said. The book is a masterpiece, but it can also be awfully frustrating at times. The four page monologues especially got to me, because it just didn't make logical sense.

    However, the beauty of the book really comes to the fore in the ending. That's when you finally understand the title of the book, too. It was the last five pages of the novel that really made it work for me.

    I'm rather intrigued by Ishiguro, to be honest. I'm reading The Remains of the Day right now, and though I've just begun, it seems really interesting.

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  46. I just finished reading the book. You've all just about summed up my experience of the book... loved it/ loathed it/ loved it. I too wondered if the Hoffmans/ Brodsky and Miss Colins, Ryders mum amd dad, Ryder and Sophie were somehow all the same "couple". I also wondered if Stephan/ Boris/ Ryder were the same person.

    I'm not literary at all in the academic sense. I wondered if Ryder had dementia? I also suspect I was missing some metaphor because everything... roads, corridors etc were gently curving. was that "time " curving on itself.

    I would say that this is one of the most profound books I have read. I can only compare it to the confusions I encountered with "zen and the art of motorcycle maintainance". That stayed with me for years and I suspect The unconsolled will too.

    David

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  47. also... it kind reminded me of Elliots Wasteland (a heap of broken images) or Audens early poems like "1929" (gnomic framents).

    David

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  48. Almost 10 years after the original post, you still get comments on this. That's saying something!!

    I love Ishiguro. He's one of my favourite authors of all time. I've so far read Nocturnes, Pale View of the Hills, Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go....and absolutely loved all of them, though I found Never Let Me Go the most powerful. I love all of them enough to want to go back and read and re-read them.

    But right now, I'm really struggling with The Unconsoled. I'm generally not comfortably with surrealism, and so I've been dragging on with this book for the last one month, and it's been an incredibly frustrating experience. Reading the book for a stretch of time makes me feel thoroughly disoriented - like I've woken up from a long nap at the oddest of hours. And it takes all of my willpower not to skip through the pages during the monologues, though I'm rolling my eyes so much throughout the monologues that they should have moved to the back of my head by now.

    And what an incredibly frustrating book it is. I want to jump into the book and shake Ryder every time he wanders off in another direction. And in that scene somebody pointed out above, where Fiona takes Ryder to meet her neighbours, I just got so mad I started shouting out loud. It's a bizzare, strange, intense, frustrating book to read. And yet, I keep ploughing on....expecting some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

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