Wednesday, February 23, 2005


I had almost forgotten how critically ill-received Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled was until reading the lengthy profile of the writer in the Guardian. In this case, the cited naysayer is James Wood, who characterizes the 1995 novel as having "invented its own category of badness". He contrasts this with its follow-up, When We Were Orphans, which is redeemed by having "invented its own category of goodness". Here, I cannot ignore the urge to comment on Wood's uncanny ability to so aptly turn a phrase. Hold on...oh good...that urge has passed.

The Unconsoled remains the first and only Ishiguro work that I have read, and it stands out in my mind as one of my favourite books as well. I refrain from reading other Ishiguro works because I feel they will somehow not match up and ultimately disappoint. I can't pinpoint my enduring affinity to The Unconsoled, and find it puzzling that I do given my repeated tendency to close the book abruptly after having read a particularly exasperating passage. The thing is, it does leave you "baffled and occasionally angry" (as Nicholas Wroe describes its critical reception in the Guardian profile). It also leaves you feeling vaguely uncomfortable, which seems to stem from the familiarity it conjures as you proceed through the dream-like sequences that prevent Ryder, the pianist and protagonist, from accomplishing what he knows he must accomplish, but cannot. Barriers and obstacles abound: we have all experienced the angst and frustration that Ryder does, and those night-time bouts of anxiety that ensue can surely stay with us as we make the transition to our waking life.

This doesn't exactly create valid grounds for appreciation of a novel, but it does serve as a clue: insecurities manifested in real life may originate from those manifested in dreams [wherein the impossible and the real reside together i.e. impossible scenario plus real anxiety], and vice versa. This must be why a Kafkaesque work like The Unconsoled is so oddly compelling: we are responding to a universality that is at once familiar and repellant.

In his review for The New Republic, Wood claims that in attempting to decipher the dream within the novel, one may fall short in doing so with all of its inherent indecipherability and consequent meaninglessness. Fine, so it's difficult to strike a balance between writing a novel and explicating a dream within the novel, but Ishiguro doesn't distinguish between the two: the reader is asked to accept what defies explanation, and it is not a difficult order to fill, because we do it every single surreal day of our lives.

Dreams come true in heaven all the time.
Baby, how on earth

-Ron Sexsmith

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