‘The Unconsoled’ is a novel published in 1995 by Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. The most unique novel ever written by Kazuo Ishiguro as well as the most polarising, it received a strong set of negative reviews upon its release, and literary critic James Wood opined after reading the novel had ‘invented its own category of badness’. However, something very strange happened after some time, a poll of 150 literary luminaries voted ‘The Unconsoled’ by Kazuo Ishiguro as the 3rd best British, Irish, or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005 tied with The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, and below Money by Martin Amis, and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee as the best novel, which is a great achievement in itself.
Shockingly, in the same poll ‘The Remains of The Day’ ranked at No.8, while ‘The Unconsoled’ was described as “Ishiguro’s intricate, dream-like fourth novel marked a radical departure from the more conventional narratives of his earlier work, evoking the great European masters of film as much as fiction.”
Well I must say, Kazuo Ishiguro, is a fantastic writer, my personal favourite among all the great novelists I have read of the contemporary. A straight forward genius, who writes novels of emotional depth and minimalistic prose. After being a serious admirer of his two masterpieces ‘The Remains of The Day’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’, I wanted to have a taste of his most unforgettable and difficult novel.
So I began reading it. The novel revolves around a pianist named Ryder, who arrives at an unnamed town to perform at a concert he doesn’t remember and checks into a hotel. The novel is bewildering from the very first page, the hotel and its eerie spaces, the liminal shades of the town, the forgetfulness of his own family members and his life.
The novel takes the reader through uncanny places and liminal spaces which evoke different emotions of sadness, pain, anxiety, fear, emergency, and strangeness. The novel retains its pungency and artistic virtue of baffling surrealism yet the language is extraordinarily simple, all the difficulty is exuded by the circumstances and situations the characters have to go through. The novel is a 535 page train wreck which is thoroughly rewarding when the reader stops searching for answers and accepts the sensations and the music of the novel as freely as a book of Zen mythology.
The characters constantly undergo pain and anxiety due to different aspects relating to their life, a long struggle throughout the dimensions of the city that Ishiguro skilfully brings to life, keeping in mind the urgencies and desires of the whole town, the bustle in the streets, the propaganda of the people, and the creepiness of different facets of the town. It successfully uncovers the hidden tragedy in every human being, the seed of trauma and the culmination of it into fear and apprehension.
‘The Unconsoled’ can largely being defined as a grand study of the subconscious and its elements, as it is an epitome of the dreaminess of the mind, its sensations, and qualities, its baffling challenges and disasters, its painful anxieties and despairing burdens.
The character work is masterful as in all Ishiguro novels, every character has a voice, a deeply embedded seed of trauma and isolation that is never going to leave them, and yet they have to struggle through this life, like us. Probably, we are the unconsoled like Ryder, Sophie, Boris, Gustav, Brodsky, Stephan, Hoffman, Miss Collins, Fiona.
The novel is a dreamlike examination of humanity, reaching out of the depths of abyss and it is the purveyor of a compassionate message, deeply ringing with truth.
Kazuo Ishiguro creates a contrast of different stages of an artist through the portrayal of four characters: Ryder, Christoph, Brodsky, and Stephan. One is a professional pianist who is world famous yet tormented by his constant challenges, an amateur who wants to prove his talent to his parents, a failed alcoholic conductor who wants to prove himself to his ex-wife, a pianist disowned by the shift of mindset and fashion of the society.
Near the end, the novel leaves the reader breathless and haunted with grief. Ishiguro once again proves that he is the most versatile novelist of his century whether it be J.M. Coetzee, V.S. Naipaul, Cormac McCarthy, or Salman Rushdie. Ishiguro always a has a unique approach to his creative work.
The Unconsoled is a masterful and sensational achievement which dives deeper into the embedded trauma and the lives of other people and their subconscious mind. It is a dreamlike novel that delivers a compassionate message for humanity. A grand study of human isolation, grief and anxiety, and it is fit to be recognised as Ishiguro’s boldest and greatest work which even deserves to be ranked parallel to Midnights Children by Salman Rushdie and surely above The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.