Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)

I just finished Kazuo Ishiguro's fourth novel, The Unconsoled (1995). I started it just after finishing Oliver Twist - that's how long I've been struggling to get through it. This is a bad, bad book.

I'm not absolutely positive I get everything he's trying to do - I'll admit that right up front. It seems to me that he's trying to craft some sort of existentialist fable in a surrealistic mode, using dream logic and absurdist machinery. The Kafka homage is clear: the unnamed Central European setting, the hints of totalitarianism, the characters' tendency to babble.

But whereas in Kafka this sort of thing creates unbearable tension broken only by wicked, knowing humor, here everything falls flat. What should be funny is just maddening. What should be resonant is just trivial. I kept remembering Wyndham Lewis's famous dis of Gertrude Stein: "Gertrude Stein’s prose-song is a cold black suet-pudding. We can represent it as a cold suet-roll of fabulously reptilian length. Cut it at any point, it is the same thing; the same heavy, sticky, opaque mass all through and all along." That's this book: thick, slow, dreary, boring, and endless.

That's all I have to say about the book, really. It didn't do it for me. But you may wish to read reviews by people who liked the book. This reviewer posits a reading that might cause the book to make a certain amount of sense; I didn't see much internal evidence to support the reading, and even if it's true, it doesn't make the book any less atrociously boring, but it's a nice try. This reviewer gushes. Not much one can say in response. Glad he liked it.

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