The Unconsoled

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into once I began turning pages of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1995 novel. Soon it became clear that I was reading very fine prose soaked in a surreal melancholy. But I was also caught in a dream sequence lasting over five-hundred pages. I couldn’t wake up. I couldn’t get out. But I found amazing and unbelievable shortcuts in time and space.

The characters were worse off–the dreaminess was natural to them–no wonder at which to gape. It was a curious experience to watch them lament their mistakes, especially in relationships, but then plunge headlong into further alienation with the people they love. And they can’t stop.

Marriages run into trouble here. Just as in real life, and in television sit-coms, people don’t talk. Therefore, small alienations grow and fester for decades. Small and insignificant vulnerabilities are protected at the cost of honesty. All it would take, I was thinking, was for this husband to confess one important thing to this wife, and healing would take root. But that would violate the unwritten rules of this strange universe. And so people there remain unconsoled.

I suspect that the author operates from a worldview of people trapped in their tragedies. Hence the title, which seems to reflect everybody in this nameless European city. My wife asks me why I read depressing books like this. In the final pages, the wife and son of Ryder, the main character, are within his grasp. Say something, my wife would urge. (She didn’t read it, but she would shout it out in the middle of the night.) Adopt the path of healing and reconciliation. The woman and boy move on. And Ryder does too, to the next recital in the next city. His sad little boat weathered its wave. Now it’s righted and it’s time to move on.

I read these books with the lens of my faith. I like this author, and I respond to his well-traveled sojourn into melancholy. But personally, I don’t believe I’m a captive of my personality, my life’s mistakes, and my fears of self-disclosure. I will choose to blunder headlong into admissions, confessions, and such. While I might not be able to work out my redemption any more than Mr Ishiguro’s sad and surreal characters, it is not required I remain adrift in life, fluttering back and forth between the occasional angry or frustrated outburst and long periods of steady state lamentations.

Read this book; it’s quite good. It’s not the best he’s written. The long monologues might have deeper meaning, but I’m not sure. Sometimes they’re just boring interludes. I was looking more into the motivations and the failed interactions between the characters. Depression and narcissism make worse bedfellows than estranged spouses.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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