Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled is an Achievement of the First Order
“What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
What happens when a world-famous pianist, who comes to town to perform an important concert, is forced to come to terms with who he really is? Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled has the feel of a cross between Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and the magical realism of Jorge Luis Borges. Like each of these authors, he has created a work that defies categorization.
The Unconsoled is the story of Ryder, a man who has achieved international fame. It opens with the pianist checking into a hotel whereupon he encounters character after character in scene after stretched-out scene in a manner not unlike Alice’s encounters after dropping through the rabbit hole. By means of their behavior toward him, and his internal attitude and responses, we get to know Ryder’s character in ways that at times become both hilarious and excruciating.
As I noted in my recent blog post The Identity Question, about how our identity is not fixed but varies based on context, we get to know Ryder — among other things — as deferential, modest, self-centered, selfless, anxious, overbearing, over-confident, and sensitive.
As we walk with him through this three-day ordeal, the events serve to reveal his entire life, especially his strained relationships with parents, family and fame itself.
The manner in which the story is told is surreal. The critics panned it when it came out, but near 25 years later it is hailed as one of the great novels of the last part of the century.
Readers will be cognizant that the storyline is becoming increasingly muddled, time stretched, situations absurd. But is that not what life can be like for one who is on the road, traveling, mushing through time from scene to scene to scene through setting after setting? I can’t help but think here of the author himself perhaps, or of the Grateful Dead’s traveling road show that inspired Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour. What is this kind of life really like?
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