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A stark postmodern vision, but ultimately disappointing and frustrating
on 12 June 2011
Eagerly anticipated after the six year gap since his previous novel 'The Remains of the Day', Kazuo Ishiguro's 'The Unconsoled' was understandably met with a lukewarm and confused reaction by many of his fans, and previously supportive critics. There's no doubting that 'The Unconsoled' is a brave and original work, and that there is something genuinely haunting about the narrative's tossing and turning of its confused and troubled protagonist, Ryder, a pianist playing a concert in a struggling, unnamed central European city. The overarching feeling of dread and confusion which the book creates, whilst not particularly enjoyable for the reader, is the one aspect of the novel that hits the mark - this unsettling effect is successful, and hangs over the novel in a fashion which Camus or Kafka would not have sniffed at. The book as a whole though, is unsuccessful. The troubled Ryder is a one dimensional creation, and though a sense of disengagement with a text like this is the author's intention, it's hard to find any reason at all to care about Ryder, or about his overly-needy partner, and his affectionate but estranged son Boris. The plot of the novel, too, lurches from one crisis to another for Ryder, with no real authorial insight into his struggle, and it feels that there's no great social, political or personal truths to be garnered, unlike in the similarly troubling works of Pynchon or Kafka - but that the novel's style disguises a vacuous and disappointingly blank text. The novel's length is also unjustified, and its lack of any sort of coherent ending might fit with its place in the postmodern genre, but leaves the reader with very little to reflect upon in the novel. In truth, nothing of real note happens from start to finish, either in terms of action, or wider affirmations, and it seems that in trying to reflect the confusion of modern day existence, Ishiguro has given himself too little to work with, by banishing self-knowledge from his major characters, and any real changes or truly impressive social reflections from his novel.
'The Unconsoled', as an original attempt at literature, which it definitely is, is a novel to be respected for its attempt to create a visceral portrait of confusion and uncertainty in the individual and in the crumbling society he seems to enter. But by blurring the city Ryder visits, and by blurring Ryder's understanding of what he sees, Ishiguro thus blots out any real revelations or engagement which the reader can find with the novel. There's too little of anything concrete in 'The Unconsoled' to hold the interest for long, in a novel which drags on with increasing tedium, and though Ishiguro manages the sense of dread in the novel with an impressive firmness, it's not nearly enough to hold together a novel which is overlong, too wooly to grasp, and will strongly frustrate all but the most ardent of Ishiguro fans.