26 August 2011

Review 35: The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

This has got to be one of the strangest books I have ever read but it also one of the most wonderful. Perplexing, bizarre and yet moving and tense it is a truly unique book which divided opinion when it was first published. Opinions ranged from 'it has created its own category of badness' (critic James Wood) to 'it's almost certainly a masterpiece' (writer Anita Brookner). It is interested that Brookner included the 'almost' in her thoughts as it is a book which it is difficult to be sure about. I finished it a week or so ago but am still not really sure what I want to say about it.

The Unconsoled is the strange story of the pianist Ryder who arrives in an unnamed European city for a performance in an evening to try and resolve the political problems in the city. The problems are never really revealed and neither is Ryder's involvement. I don't want to give away the small amount of details that are revealed but I think it's worth saying that to really enjoy the book you need to relax about the fact that you have no idea whats going on. When I started the novel I was waiting for a big reveal and when I realised it wasn't coming I settled into just enjoying it.
The novel moves through the few days that Ryder spends there in a rigidly linear way as Ryder moves from one place to another preparing for the event as he encounters various people. We find things out as Ryder does through his strange and wonderful journey through the days in the book. There are a plethora of fascinating secondary characters which you gradually discover more about and their relationship to Ryder.

I loved the dreamlike way that the narrative unfolds and Ishiguro has said that he conciously used a dreamlike way of travelling through the story - Ryder walks through a door and ends up somewhere impossible, he sees what going inside a building whilst in a car on the street and places and fragments from his childhood crop up in the city. There was little moments of this that made me laugh out loud in pleasure, almost at his audacity of allowing the story to do that.

I am always tempered when writing reviews by the fact that I personally prefer knowing very little about a book. As an avid reader, I have become pretty good at choosing books in Waterstones that I will enjoy and I go on that or peoples recommendations rather than reviews. But sometimes in reviewing a book you can give away a few elements of the plot to encourage people to read it, so as long as you don't give anything important away. With The Unconsoled, there is so little you can say about the 'plot' as such without spoiling the wonderful experience of reading it.

Basically, if you enjoy Ishiguro then read this and/or if you enjoy what might be termed 'literary' books which aren't so heavy on action (although this does have a surprisingly tense ending which I wasn't expecting) then read this.

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