Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mr.Head - can you stop spinning now? The Unconsoled - Kazuo Ishiguro

Oh. My. God.

I am still in shock. It is about 24 hours since I finished reading my little birthday treat, The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. Sleep last night was punctuated by short, weird dreams. Waking up in the morning, my first instinct was to get on the net and read what others have thought of this book. Actually, make it 'what others have made of this book'.

If I have read a stranger book in my life, I don't remember it. Back in my undergrad days, we went through a bit of a Kafka phase. My memory of those books is vague, but what I do remember is likely the closest thing I have read to The Unconsoled. I could easily make a case for why this is one of the best books I have read in a long, long time. Or one of the worst. I could get comfortable with either assessment.

Last I spoke with you about The Unconsoled, I was at about the 300-page mark, and had only a vague sense of what was going on in the novel. Soon after, I started forming a hypothesis on how to interpret the book. (Yes, this the kind of book where the reader is not a passive participant in the creative process. Reading is hard work.) Armed with my hypothesis, I could make some sense of what was going on. But only some. The facts did not all fit my little hypothesis. By the time I got to the end of the book, I had a much firmer grasp of a possible interpretation that fit most of the facts laid out by Ishiguro. And since then, I have been polling other reviewers to see what they came up with.

For Brick and Rope readers who haven't read an Ishiguro yet, let me forewarn you. This is probably not a good book to get introduced to this master novelist. Though The Unconsoled has a lot of the characteristics elements of an Ishiguro, it is a rather extreme version of his vision. If you are in the enviable situation of just starting off on your Ishiguro journey, allow me to recommend his most recent book as the best place to start - Never Let Me Go, published in 2005. That book hit me with one of the most powerful emotional impacts a book has ever had. I would follow that up with the work most consider to be Ishiguro's masterpiece, The Remains of the Day. Once you have read those, and have some idea of how to deal with his work, it might be a more worthwhile exercise to pick up The Unconsoled.

The Unconsoled was a more mind-bending experience for me than I had bargained for. But it also established in my mind the Ishiguro's position of as one of the most original of contemporary authors. It is a book that I have to read a second time (maybe it will make more sense this time around!). And it made me do the math in my head - Ishiguro writes a book every five years or thereabouts (no, he is not prolific). Never Let me Go was published in 2005. We are now in 2009 ... Dare I hope for a new Ishiguro next year? Please, please let it be so!

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