The Unconsoled

I had started reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled last year, but didn’t get into it much. I felt it was a bit intriguing, but too weird for me to take up at that time. Last week, when I was late for work one morning, and looking for a book to read while commuting, I finally picked it up again. I loved it.

The Unconsoled is a frustrating book—it provides no answers, and no explanations. The protagonist—a Mr. Ryder, who is apparently a world-renowned pianist, and who seems to have just lost his memory—has just arrived at some European town to give a performance. The town is in a sort-of artistic crisis, and his arrival there is meant to provide a fulcrum for change in the town’s history. Everyone he meets has expectations that he does not understand.

He’s lost, in the epic sense of the word.

Right from the start, you are placed into an eerie, surreal world where time does not have much meaning. Mr. Ryder has 30 minute-long conversations on a short elevator ride. He seems to meet people from his past who have no business being there. He begins to remember, but never anything clearly. And he somehow knows things about the people he meets that just doesn’t make any sense.

And everyone he meets seems to be dying to confess their life-stories to him; sound-out their mistakes and fallacies for his benefit.

As the book goes on, Mr. Ryder begins to construct a self-affirming narrative—begins to remember things differently. The things he’s done blindly on one day, he remembers doing deliberately, and with calculation on the next.

The narrative is not fast, but seems relentless. One can’t help but feel trapped inside the world it builds.

I had certain plans then, such as when you do when you are young, when you don’t realise how limited time is, when you don’t realise that there’s a shell built around you, a hard shell so you can’t — get — out!

Inspite, or maybe because, of all this, the book manages to being the reader along: providing tantalizing hints of a plot that never appears fully, promising closure that never arrives. I found it fascinating, but will need to re-read it before forming any solid conclusions.