Book review: The Unconsoled

The UnconsoledThe Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second time I’ve tried to read The Unconsoled and the first time I’ve actually completed it. A couple of months after the novel was released, I picked up a copy of the enormous hardback, as I was certain the blurb rang true, that I would suddenly fall in love with the world inside.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, I was mystified and more than a little pissed off. Trying to make sense of the book was kind of like stuffing a pillow with smoke: a useless exercise. The more I read, the more I became infuriated, until I abandoned it a couple of chapters in. This was bold: I’m one of those people who has to finish books once they’re started – but not this time.

So it was with some trepidation I came back to it. Prompted by recent write-ups lauding the world Ishiguro created within, I thought it was time to give it another go. This time, I completed it.

My verdict? Eh…

There is a distinctive world created, and it is – at least at this point in my life – as interesting as it is irritating. But irritation is the cornerstone of this book. It’s suggested the book is experimental, but to me it sometimes feels more lazy than anything else. It could certainly do with a hundred-page diet, for starters.

On the face of it, Ishiguro is telling the story of a pianist named Ryder. He’s to perform in an unnamed European town. But the nameless town has other ideas. On a base level it’s Kafkaesque: a character attempts to attain a goal but bureaucracy and the state of society ensure he can’t. Right? Right. Except The Unconsoled takes a bit of a lit-exercise twist and has everything take place in what appears to be a field of dreams: time and location is fluid, and it’s nothing to flit from one thing to another with the barest of explanations.

I hope you didn’t come here looking for resolution. ‘Cause really, there isn’t any.

By the end of the book, you’ll still be wondering who the title refers to. It could, at times, refer to each of the main characters. It could be that the main characters are all aspects of the same person. Or it could be that it’s a hand-waving exercise of the and-then-I-woke-up-and-it-was-all-just-a-dream! school. Whichever it is, I was glad I took the tour of the little town, with its dancing porters and inefficiencies. I just wish it’d been about half as long.

My GoodReads profile is here.

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