You know the thing where you say you’re going to do a thing and you really actually want to do the thing and so you do literally everything but the thing, instead?
Sure, yeah, me neither!
Anyway, no: I haven’t forgotten about the Nocturnes thing. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve even started working on it! Sort of! I’ve read the book straight through once, just to confirm that it seems like something I would in fact like to write about, and now I’m reading it a second time, this time with pencil in hand, to prep the soil, as it were. I suspect I’ll read each story a third time as I prep the write-ups, all while trying to ignore both my crushing feelings of inadequacy and the scolding glares of the TBR pile, from which this fun thing I want do for fun is stealing my focus. Fun?
So you’ve got whatever all that gives rise to to look forward to.
In the meantime, one thing I did note when I announced this little project is that some of you good people have not read Kazuo Ishiguro yet, which fact I can only take to heart as an absolute moral failing on my part for not having convinced you yet that Kazuo Ishiguro is the best and that you need to read everything he’s ever written.
First things first: Nocturnes is probably not the book I’d give you first to convince you that Kazuo Ishiguro is the best and that you need to read everything he’s ever written.
I won’t claim to be an Ishiguro expert; more, I’m just a heart-on-my-sleeve fanboy, here, albeit with a light touch of manic have-you-accepted-your-lord-and-savior energy. I’ve read all his books once, and I’ve read Never Let Me Go twice, and I think one of his first two novels twice, and I’ve read The Unconsoled at least three times, if not four times, and I’m not done with that book yet or really any of his books, but, I mean, The Unconsoled—geez, that’s probably the closest book I have to that Middlemarch thing that book some folks have, the book you come back to throughout your life only to find a different book in your hands every time.
I love The Unconsoled for that and yet it is also not the book of Ishiguro’s I’d suggest you’d read first, even though it’s the other Ishiguro book that Nocturnes most brings to mind during my current read-through.
Ishiguro didn’t click for me until I read Never Let Me Go in the mid-aughts. I’d read The Unconsoled long before, in high school, and hated it. I mean, I was an idiot, and I was wrong, but also I was maybe just then coming to realize that it was actually okay to not like the things important people said were important, and so that reading experience remains important to me to this day, however wrong and dumb I was. Flash forward a decade and there must have been something in the air about knowing that this important literary guy, the guy who wrote that one terrible book that I hated and that other book about a boring butler that was probably really English and boring, was releasing a science fiction novel, which fact somehow re-piqued my curiosity, causing me to read Never Let Me Go around when it came out, and it floored me and left me for dead the end RIP me, I’ve been an internet ghost ever since, woo-oo-oo. Then I read it again a few years later and found it strangely hopeful and comforting in a way I'll never properly be able to explain because I think it was contextual and probably doesn’t make sense out of context. Still, even though there’s no way you’re going to recreate that experience for yourself and while it remains the one book of his I’m the most personally scared of returning to all these years later because no way can I recreate that experience for myself, it’s probably also still the one book of his I’d tell you to read if you were only going to read one. That, or Remains of the Day, the boring book about the boring butler in boring old England.
Again, of course, I recommend reading everything he’s ever written, because as much as the individual works sing, the picture his writing forms in aggregate is something else. His prose, his functionally lyrical prose, is this magical, magnificent scaffolding upon which I’m convinced he can erect anything. The way he uses it to play with the relationship between his narrators and what they think and believe and the distance between all of that and the actual reality outside their minds, the tension between where those worlds scrape against and flow into each other, influencing and being influenced by each other, actively participating in the construction of lived experience, while also sometimes freely veering toward the strange, the absurd, the hilarious, like a plaid cashmere rug woven beneath your feet while you admire the horizon, only so he can yank it out from beneath you the moment you finally notice it happening, is, to me, all so great and so compelling, compulsively, richly, rewardingly readable, so basically and complicatedly what I want from a book, and yes I lost track of this sentence in my confused enthusiasm and no I will not be trying to revise it out any further, thank you, period.
Which is to say doing a group reading thing is probably a bad idea, because he’s so personal to me the way so few authors get to really be that the moment someone in the comments points out a flaw in his writing—which no one will, because he is flawless and perfect—I’ll probably crumble to the ground like a sad cookie, never to blog again.
Regardless! What I want to do this time through, with Nocturnes, aside from spend some more time with this odd outlier of a book from his oeuvre full of odd outliers, is start prying more into the tricks of his trade, to figure out a little better for myself how he does what he does and why I like what I like about his work. And so I’m doing that now and will be sharing all that soon and I do hope you find a ride you want to come along with me on, whenever I actually start getting this train out of the station.
Schedule for this thing to come, for those who want to follow along at home.
Side note: how on earth did I know important people were saying Ishiguro was important, in the early 90s? How on earth did anything happen before the Internet? I mean, I worked in a library, sure, but it’s not like I was actually talking to people, in high school. Weird.
I recently finally read Ishiguro’s Nobel lecture. His first two books are honestly the dimmest for me, in my memory, but the lecture put some interesting context around them, and yes I really do need to go back to those before too long, I think.
Spoiler alert: Remains of the Day is not boring. Ha ha! What a funny joke I made!