by Kazuo Ishiguro; Knopf, 240 pp., $25
Kazuo Ishiguro may have trained his readers too well. They're accustomed to receiving sweeping stories that pick them up, carry them along on wave after wave of prose and emotion, then set them down — sometimes with a thump, sometimes with the grace of tide leaving shore.
Readers who have followed Kazuo Ishiguro's work will find his first venture into short-story fiction a bit of a departure. Some — especially those who count Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day among their favorites — will feel adrift in Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall.
It isn't that Ishiguro's writing style and subtle elegance don't come through in shorter works; it's simply that the characters don't have time to develop the depth and intricacy Ishiguro threads through his longer writing. As a result, the emotional investment isn't there for the reader.
However, someone who's never read an Ishiguro novel might find Nocturnes a great introduction to the work of a fine literary stylist. He crafts his story around the experiences of five musicians, and music is the vehicle through which passion, tragedy, opportunity and hope come to the characters.
The writing is clean, and the musicians Ishiguro develops his stories around are interesting and compelling, in their own way. Through their eyes, he takes readers on smaller journeys that flavor most of his work: relationships in painful states of limbo or loss, and people unsure where they fit in life's grand scheme.
For readers who say they don't have the time to invest in a novel, Nocturnes is an easy read. The stories, though connected, aren't dependent on one another. Readers can come and go as they choose.