Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

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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

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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?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – January to March

Published January 9, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Another year over, and a new year of short stories begins! Here’s what I’m going to be reading each week until the end of March.

Week beginning 5th January

Magpies by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 12th January

A Married Man’s Story by Katherine Mansfield from the collection The Story, Love, Loss & The Lives of Women 100 Great Short Stories chosen by Victoria Hislop

Week beginning 19th January

The Barn At The End Of Our Term by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 26th January

The Five Orange Pips by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 1st February

She Murdered Mortal He by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 8th February

Demons by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Week beginning 15th February

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

Week beginning 22nd February

Keeping Watch Over The Sheep by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 1st March

The Archduchess by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 8th March

The Oversoul by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 15th March

The Apple by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 22nd March

Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 29th March

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

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

Published November 29, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s Nocturne all about?:

Nocturne explores how physical appearance can be everything to be noticed in the Hollywood celebrity world. Our main character, Steve, is a talented saxophonist who has never made it big musically speaking until he is told that it is due to the way he looks.

What did I think?:

Nocturne could quite possibly be my favourite story in this collection. The theme surrounding all these tales appears to involve music and the jaded aspirations of the characters that feel that they have never really achieved their dream. Take our main character Steve, a brilliant saxophonist who has played with several bands and discovers real beauty in his music, yet according to his agent and soon to be ex-wife, it is because he is not blessed with the “movie-star looks,” that seem to be crucial to securing fame and fortune in the fickle Hollywood world. For example, in the words of his painfully honest agent:

“Billy’s ugly all right. But he’s sexy, bad guy ugly. You, Steve, you’re… Well, you’re dull, loser ugly. The wrong kind of ugly.”

Charming right? Steve does not even find comfort from his wife, who is leaving him for a guy she has held a torch for for many years. She embraces him, steps back regarding him deeply and considers, then actually agrees with his agent! But all is not lost – the man she is leaving him for feels bad about the whole situation (stealing his wife etc) and has offered to pay for him to have a full facial transformation under the best plastic surgeon that money can buy, a Dr Boris, surgeon to the stars who lets his patients recover on a special floor of an exclusive hotel where the press hounds cannot get to them. At first, Steve is appalled by the idea of changing his face to kick-start his career, but eventually he gives in and finds himself in the hotel, neighbour to no less than Lindy Gardner, a notorious celebrity who has a fabulous career, fantastic bank balance, a fresh face every so often and a few divorces under her belt. Steve’s agent is practically salivating when he finds out and insists that he remains on friendly terms with Lindy, as she could do so much for his career. I particularly love this quote from Steve which I find incredibly poignant regarding today’s celebrity culture:

“The week before, I’d been a jazz musician. Now I was just another pathetic hustler, getting my face fixed in a bid to crawl after the Lindy Gardners of this world into vacuous celebrity.”

They do become friends of sorts, and have a few interesting conversations about the celebrity world. Steve even gets the confirmation he has always dreamed of when Lindy listens to one of his CD’s and pronounces him “a genius.” The rest of the story is hilarious in parts, as the two set off on adventures around the hotel yet also bitter sweet as it comes near the time when the bandages are due to come off. For me, it was a beautiful and funny account of what one man will do to achieve his lifelong ambition. I felt myself switching from different emotions while reading it – some parts made me quite cross, others quite sad and others I just had to laugh at! Wonderful writing style as always with Kazuo Ishiguro who continues to surprise me with every story I read.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter by Angela Slatter from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Challenge: Short Stories October to December

Published October 9, 2014 by bibliobeth

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It’s that time again short story fans! This is what I’ll be reading short story wise from now until the end of 2014.

Week beginning 6th October

 Looking Up Vagina by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 13th October

The Pool by Daphne Du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 20th October

Partial Eclipse by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 27th October

The Fly And Its Effect Upon Mr Bodley by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 3rd November

Busted by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 10th November

Nocturne by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music And Nightfall

Week beginning 17th November

The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter by Angela Slatter from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 24th November

The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 1st December

The Common Enemy by Natasha Cooper from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 8th December

Note To Sixth-Grade Self by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 15th December

A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 22nd December

Mrs Todd’s Shortcut by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 29th December

Everything I Knew About My Family On My Mother’s Side by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

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

Published July 5, 2014 by bibliobeth

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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?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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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

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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

Short Stories Challenge – Come Rain Or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Published February 15, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s Come Rain Or Come Shine all about?:

In this sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores love, music and the passage of time. Along the way we meet young dreamers, café musicians and faded stars, all at some moment of reckoning. This particular short story involves a married couple and their oldest friend who visits them at a critical moment in their relationship.

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.

What did I think?:

This is an interesting little story with an ending that was somewhat unresolved, which was a bit frustrating for me. Our narrator is Raymond who lives and works in Spain but is disillusioned with his job and his life. He accepts an invitation to visit two of his oldest friends who live in London, Charlie and Emily. However, when he arrives there he is greeted by Charlie who explains that his marriage is going through a rough patch and as a favour, he would like Raymond to smooth things over, ready for his return from a business trip, so his wife can learn to love him again. Raymond is not entirely happy about staying on his own with Emily, as he believes she is easily irritated by him, but agrees to try and help Charlie in any way he can. He soon comes to realise that Charlie sees him as a bit of a waster, so in spending time with Emily she will appreciate and acknowledge Charlie as being a better man than him.

Emily herself seems to think Raymond is going through some kind of mental breakdown, and treats him with kid gloves, which is understandable when she catches him in a bit of a situation involving a boot boiling in a saucepan with a newspaper between his teeth, a scene which is absolutely hilarious to read. They do have a connection in the kind of music they love however – the old crooners, which Emily’s husband Charlie is very unappreciative of and does not allow her to play. I’m not going to give away the ending which I was slightly disappointed by, except that I thought – “Surely there must be more?” Apart from this, I think the author creates really intriguing characters, that even though they are somewhat unlikeable pique your interest, leaving you wanting to know more about them. Is Raymond irritating? Probably. Is Charlie brash and unfeeling? I think so. Is Emily a bit patronising? Definitely. Did the author keep me reading? Oh yes.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint by Caitlin R. Kiernan from the collection A Book of Horrors.