It is an autumn afternoon, a Saturday, perhaps. Sitting by the balcony of the first floor apartment, one looks over the kids who have just come out and are trying to agree on a game they’d all like to play. It has just stopped raining. The scent of the moist earth evokes memories of the times bygone and one is suddenly teleported to a world where scenes from the past – distant and recent, real and imagined – come to life and serenade the senses.
It is the same poignant magic that Kazuo Ishiguro’s stories create as they meander through labyrinths of mementos. Mementos carved not out of extravagance or flamboyance but out of the monotony of everyday life. Not in Technicolor but in sepia! A cup of tea turned cold. A conversation oft’ imagined and rehearsed but never performed. Things left unsaid or undone because they seemed too out of place in the grind of the passing of days.
Almost nothing of significance ever happens in these tales. Nothing that can not be dismissed as ordinary. At least when put into perspective through the lenses of the ordinary man – a distant observer who considers it not his place to philosophize over the political, historical, ethical, or moral repercussions of what goes on in the world at large. There are no heroes in these stories and no villains. Just ordinary people going through their lives as ordinary people should. They don’t put up a fight – not in any obvious manner, at least. They don’t strive to change the world or even their own lives but carry on, accepting things the way they are. And there is nothing to suggest that this is not a good way to lead one’s life. The characters are not ashamed of who they are, not ashamed of their insignificance, happy to play their parts according to the script that has been handed out to them.
The stories celebrate melancholy. The passage of time. Twilight. Reflections. Experiences. Memories. Regrets. What ifs. Rued chances. Opportunities not taken. Potentials not reached. Promises not made, nor kept. Yet, lives well lived with simplicity, restraint and honesty! Like Mr. Stevens, when he remarks about the English landscape (in The remains of the day),
“I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it.”
Or like Kathy, when she describes her fantasy (in Never let me go),
“as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing, because this was Norfolk after all… and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it… The fantasy never got beyond that –I didn’t let it– and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”
These are worlds we can all easily imagine to live in. The world we all live in, the vignettes of a people we all are! Like Kathy and Tommy, we all look for our Norfolk – a place where everything we have ever lost in life is washed ashore and gathered for us to find! And like Kathy sums up,
“We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.”
Nocturnes – a collection of five stories of “music and nightfall” was my introduction to the worlds and stories of Kazuo Ishiguro. ‘The remains of the day’ and ‘Never let me go’ followed (both of which won the Booker prize and have also been made into movies with ‘The remains of the day’ being one of the finest adaptations I have ever seen). I’m currently reading ‘An artist of the floating world’ & ‘A pale view of hills’.