Anita Brookner’s assessment that THE UNCONSOLED is “almost certainly a masterpiece” is the proper assessment for the surprisingly long, astonishingly accomplished fourth novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the celebrated THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1989) and two excellent earlier novels. Set in an unnamed provincial city in central Europe in the 1990’s, THE UNCONSOLED is the story of Ryder, a classical pianist who has been invited to the city to give a concert. Ryder arrives, only to find himself perpetually puzzled by an inability to remember why exactly he is there or where he is supposed to be next at any given moment, and under siege from the maddeningly solicitous and demanding local citizens.
THE UNCONSOLED is about the elusiveness of identity and the treachery of memory, regret and the hope of redemption. Though its atmosphere is dreamlike, it actually is hyper-realistic, portraying with enigmatic precision of a very high order “real” life as each of us actually experiences it. Like all truly important literature, it raises more questions than it answers: Who is the protagonist? Where did he come from? Why is he here? Where is he going next? Is individual identity— whatever that is—fundamental, or is our inevitable involvement with every other fellow human the bedrock of who we “really” are?
With respect to its author’s career, the question THE UNCONSOLED raises is the same as that posed earlier by THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, raised to a much higher power: Where can he go next? What is left for him to accomplish? What is certain is that with his fourth novel, Ishiguro has both firmly established himself as an important novelist and considerably raised expectations in his admirers and the stakes for himself. He probably will be up to the challenge.
Sources for Further Study
London Review of Books. XVII, June 8, 1995, p. 30.
The Nation. CCLXI, November 6, 1995, p. 546.
The New Republic. CCXIII, November 6, 1995, p. 42.
New Statesman and Society . VIII, May 12, 1995, p. 39.
The New York Times Book Review. C, October 15, 1995, p. 7.
The New Yorker. LXXI, October 23, 1995, p. 90.
Newsweek. CXXVI, October 2, 1995, p. 92.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, September 18, 1995, p. 105.
Time. CXLVI, October 2, 1995, p. 82.
The Times Literary Supplement. April 28, 1995, p. 22.
As of 1989, with three increasingly well-received novels under his belt, Kazuo Ishiguro had yet to take a false step in a career that had gone from strength to strength and showed every promise of developing into a major body of work. A Pale View of Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986) were exquisitely wrought, dialogue-driven and delicate, foreshadowing their young author’s tour de force demonstration of his superb ear for social misunderstandings and things left unsaid in The Remains of the Day (1989). The first two novels were remarkable for being set in Ishiguro’s native Japan, which he had not visited since his family emigrated to England in 1960. The Remains of the Day was even better crafted than its predecessors and remarkable for a complete absence in its ostensible subject matter (the late-career sadness and moral dilemmas of a thoroughly proper English butler) of anything whatsoever to do with Japan. The Remains of the Day brought its author sudden celebrity, winning Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize and inspiring a popular film.
The Unconsoled , Ishiguro’s fourth novel, deals with the elusiveness of identity, the treachery of memory, regret, and the hope of redemption. Anita Brookner’s endorsement—“a novel of outstanding breadth and originality: almost certainly a masterpiece”—seems right. The narrator is a Mr. Ryder, a classical pianist of international renown who arrives to give a concert in an unnamed provincial city in central Europe, only to find himself puzzled by an inability to remember why exactly he is there or where he is supposed to be next, and under siege from the solicitous and demanding local burghers. The town is...
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