Malvern Hills

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Short Stories Challenge – Cellists by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music and Nightfall

Published May 20, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s Cellists all about?:

In this sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores love, music and the passage of time. This quintet ranges from Italian piazzas to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the “hush-hush floor” of an exclusive Hollywood hotel. Along the way we meet young dreamers, café musicians and faded stars, all at some moment of reckoning.

In Cellists, we meet a talented young cello player living hand to mouth in Italy until he meets a fellow musician who changes his life forever.

What did I think?:

This is the last short story in Ishiguro’s Nocturnes collection and, like the others, focuses mainly on music and characters who are at a turning point in their lives. The story is actually narrated by the member of another band who meet our main character Tibor when he stops to listen to their music. They begin to get to know him and discover that he is hugely talented as a cellist, trained by the finest musicians in the business and with some strong qualifications behind him. However, he just hasn’t caught that lucky break, is living on the breadline and is at a bit of a loss of what to do next.

This is where our mysterious American woman comes in. Tibor notices her listening to music in one of the city’s squares but doesn’t think much more of this until she approaches him directly telling him that she had been present at his recent recital in the San Lorenzo church. Immediately she rubs him up the wrong way by telling him that he has a lot of potential (instead of genius/talent which he was expecting). She informs him that it is important to have that one person there who recognises something in you and is prepared to nurture and lead you on the right path. Tibor is still slightly offended but takes up her offer of help, too curious to let the matter lie.

When he arrives at her hotel room for the first “lesson,” she merely tells him to play a few pieces while she sits back to listen. The advice she gives him is both abstract and vague but the funny thing is when he plays the pieces again it seems to have worked! The two continue to work together although Tibor’s new friends in the other band become suspicious of her motives and disappointed as Tibor’s character appears to change over a short period of time into someone entirely unlikeable. There is a slight twist in this tale which we learn a bit further on and I loved how it shone a whole new light on the situation that Tibor finds himself in.

As a short piece of fiction, I did enjoy this story in general and as always, loved how beautiful the author’s writing was. It’s not my favourite story in the collection (that prize falls to Malvern Hills, please see my review HERE) but it’s still a pleasure to read. The characters are interesting enough yet I would have loved a more in-depth look at the character of Eloise, the American woman that Tibor meets as I found her fascinating. I would recommend this story and indeed the whole collection to any Kazuo Ishiguro fan but it may not be the best example of his amazing work.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Roots And All by Brian Hodge from the collection A Book of Horrors

Short Stories Challenge – Malvern Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Published July 5, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s Malvern Hills all about?:

In this sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores love, mu2sic and the passage of time. Gentle, intimate and witty, Nocturnes is underscored by a haunting theme: the struggle to restoke life’s romance, even as relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede. In Malvern Hills our narrator is a struggling musician who is trying to make it big in the London music scene. He escapes for a while to stay with his sister in the Malvern Hills while continuing to write songs and helping them in their cafe. A Swiss couple come into the cafe who are also musicians, but there is a lot of tension in the air, and our narrator ends up knowing them better and finding out why.

What did I think?:

In Malvern Hills, the third short story in this collection, we meet a musician – guitarist and song-writer to be exact, who is trying to get himself in a band so that he can be hopefully fully involved in the London music scene, play a better variety of gigs etc. This is proving much more difficult than he thought as while the auditions seem to go well, as soon as he mentions that he writes his own songs, he is given the “Thanks for coming but…” spiel. There is also the fact that he keeps running into old university friends who are eager to learn how his search for “fame and fortune” is going since he left the course. In frustration, he decides to spend the summer at his sisters in the Malvern Hills, where she and her husband run a little cafe, and he can be a handy third person to help out, and have time to play his guitar and work on his songs. He fears that going back home will make him feel slightly claustrophobic, but it turns out he feels slightly nostalgic for the peaceful hills which he can re-discover at his leisure. This is until he works in the cafe, and old faces from his past return, quizzing him on what he is up to with his life. One particularly unwelcome guest is a woman called Mrs Fraser, or Hag Fraser as he has always “fondly” called her, who used to make his life a misery at school:

“Her aside, school hadn’t been that bad, but she’d had it in for me from the start, and when you’re just eleven years old, there’s nothing you can do to defend yourself from someone like her.”

As he feels all his old hatred returning he is slightly comforted when his sister and her husband tell him that she has had a hard time of it recently, her husband left her for a much younger woman, and she was having to run the B&B they owned by herself. Not only this, but there were rumours that she was failing dismally and customers were checking out almost as soon as they had checked in. Ah…karma! Our narrator also amuses himself at the cafe by giving the customers amusing names, so that he can remember their orders, of course. There is Donkey Face, Winston Churchill and his wife and “The Krauts,” who are actually a Swiss couple called Tilo and Sonja, and the main focus of the story. Our narrator notes that they seem just like any other middle-aged couple, except that the husband is VERY enthusiastic about the cafe, the hills, life in general using grand gestures with his hands and beaming from ear to ear. It starts to become a bit more interesting when the husband tries to include his wife in the conversation but she stares pointedly at her guidebook and ignores him completely. Then the wife, Sonja becomes extremely irritated with an anger that our narrator notes has been latent for quite a while and is particularly cross about how long she has had to wait for her sandwich. Tilo comes back in from where he has been admiring the BEAUTIFUL scenery, and does not seem to register anything is amiss with his wife. Our narrator, who has also become angry with Sonja for her attitude recommends that they stay at Mrs (Hag) Fraser’s hotel if they are looking for a place to stay, as a way to get back at the couple.

The following day when our narrator is singing, playing guitar and working on a song in the hills, he becomes aware of two people watching him, and he realises it is the couple from the day before. What a change however, Sonja is cheerful, friendly and smiling and extremely complimentary of his music, and Tilo is his same enthusiastic self, which makes him warm to them slightly. He finds out they are actually professional musicians, and it seems that it is their love of music and performing that has bound them together for so long. Whilst playing them a song, they even sit down with their arms around each other, and he can sense what music means to them both. Saying that, he can still sense tension – when Sonja talks about the Swiss traditional music that they rarely perform any more and when they talk about Dusseldorf, where their son is currently living, but seems estranged from his parents. Nevertheless he goes away feeling slightly guilty for having recommended they stay at Hag Fraser’s hotel.

The next day, after a row with his sister, our narrator goes again into the hills with a slight hopefulness at coming across Tilo and Sonja again. He does meet Sonja, but her alone, as Tilo has gone off by himself for a walk. This is when the tensions in their marriage become glaringly apparent as Sonja confides in him about her husband and his limitless enthusiasm for everything in the world, and that she felt herself changed as a person, never having been as angry in her younger years. Our narrator asks her advice on what she thinks he should do regarding his music and she gives it, making him consider a lot more things as he works out the rest of his song.

I think this is the kind of story you can only appreciate if you read it more than once, which is what I have had to do with a couple of stories in my Short Story Challenge. With this one, I definitely got more from it on the second reading, which is always a nice surprise and makes it much easier to write a review. As with the previous two stories in this collection, it highlights the importance of music in our characters lives, but also suggests that sometimes, music isn’t enough to hold two people together. I didn’t really connect with the main character on either readings I’m sorry to say, he came across slightly bratty, but I was completely intrigued by the story of Tilo and Sonja, who seemed far more interesting characters. However, at the end of the second reading, I did find myself wishing for a follow up, just to see if our narrator did end up as successful recording artist, and what happened to Tilo and Sonja after that second day on the hills. I think this is testament to a great writer which, if you give him a chance, will provide you with a story that you can really immerse yourself in.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Ghosts With Teeth by Peter Crowther from the collection A Book of Horrors

Challenge: Short Stories April to June

Published April 1, 2014 by bibliobeth


The year is going really quickly so far and these are the short stories that will keep me entertained until the end of June!

Week beginning 7th April

Jamila by Randy Taguchi from the collection Fujisan

Week beginning 14th April

The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Week beginning 21st April

A Case of Identity by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 28th April

Bees by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 5th May

Four Rajeshes by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Week beginning 12th May

Apples by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 19th May

She Was Looking For This Coat by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 26th May

Ganymede by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 2nd June

Xenos Beach by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 9th June

Chocolate Hearts From The New World by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 16th June

Snatched by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 23rd June

Malvern Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Week beginning 30th June

Ghosts With Teeth by Peter Crowther from the collection A Book of Horrors