This week you are truly on holiday. Staying in a town on the Scottish border for a week before summer school teaching begins and after the undergrad and MFA degree shows etc. This allows time for some pleasure reading, i.e. novels. Literature is a passion of course, a kind of reading that is often so pleasurable that it is hard to justify it as also being a central area of research for anyone interested in questions like, what is art?, what does art do for society?, what is good art?, what is a good society? etc. But of course literature is crucial and we often find the most convincing representations of our ‘reality’ and examples of the most profound ideas and ways of thinking we can encounter via literature.
This week you were fortunate enough to have come away with a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro that you had not yet read. It is called ‘The Unconsoled’, it was the only one of his books, aside from his very latest, that you hadn’t read, and it turned out to be by far the best, you even want to use the ungainly word ‘masterpiece’ to describe it and recommend it (as you are implicitly doing here) to every one you know to read as soon as possible. All of Ishiguro’s books have beguiled you, and yes, that is an appropriate word. He has a strangely flat or po-faced prose that, in part plays up the politeness of middle-class English so that sentences become unnecessarily protracted by leading you down their garden paths where you find … the next one beginning. Nevertheless, a drama inevitably does unfold, even though it never announces itself abruptly but appears only by the most gradual and sensitive means.
In ‘When We Were Orphans‘ you were sensually overwhelmed by veils of biography tugged gently away one-by-one to reveal a tear-jerking narrative concealed within a typically Ishiguro-an surface banality. In ‘Never Let Me Go‘ the unemotional diary of an uninspiring teenager’s voice brought chills, once you found out – apparently with no help from the author- the post-human condition of which it was speaking. In ‘A Pale View of Hills‘ another childhood was strangely interleaved with the impact of the atom bomb on Japanese culture, and in ‘The Remains of The Day‘ the voice of the servant class that once ran English country houses became critically entangled with horrific dealings made between the aristocracies of pre-war Europe
‘The Unconsoled‘ is, not only more than double the length of any of these novels, it is also more consistent, more mysterious, more illogical and more compelling. The apparent illogic of its depicted spaces, events, causalities and relationships however only keeps you fascinated, entranced and increasingly concerned-for the strange array of characters. You don’t want to share any more of the plot etc. here, this is a book that has to be experienced and increasingly believed and believed-in as a synthesis akin to a coincidence of Kafka and Joyce.
What, after all, should we expect from literature, and what do we deserve? Ishiguro is able to assure us here, by means of multiple disturbances, that our experiences are in fact unfathomably complex and not adequately represented by any simplistic notion of ‘realism’, nor by a purely rational, quantitative, Euclidean or simply extensive understanding.
As you are on holiday you are rushing to post this using an awkward PC utility, and also posting at a time other than your usual Friday morning slot. But this is all you have time to discuss, though this ‘ALL’ is a LOT. Ishiguro’s ‘The Unconsoled’ has left you with a new faith in art no less, and with a buttressed belief in art’s possibilities. There is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more you could say and want to say about it, but you have to simply stop here.