Kazuo Ishiguro. The Unconsoled.

Photo: Outside the Labyrinth, Patrice Gracia 2015

Look at that picture. It’s the maze outside the freakin Budapest National Theatre!

Since Ishiguro is so concerned with how personal accountability intersects with personal and public delusionality, it only makes sense that he should have written a book in which a man approaches a public concert and keynote–and his family life–with the reckless, responsibility-free logic of dreams (stand up to give a speech and find yourself naked; turn into a pig; go backwards every time you step forwards, and why the hell not? And while you’re at it, neglect your child! Break every promise you make! Ignore a man’s getting his leg sawed off in front of you! LIFE IS BUT A DREAM!). Or, perhaps, a book in which a public figure should look about him and see all people and events only as elements of his own, all-important emotional life, while the public, simultaneously, view him only as a means toward forwarding their own agendas: public life is an interface at which people cease to recognize other people as people; there is only the I! Or, perhaps, a book that satirizes the idea that dreams have any meaning at all, by presenting the poverty of choice and experience that dreams represent. Or perhaps, a book that proves that ALL meaning can be found in dreams and the subconscious, giving us the dream-life of a character and practically begging us to deduce a coherent biography from the symbols!

I suppose that any or all of these things might be happening, or might not; I suspect that Ishiguro is teasing us, daring us to interpret the book, and then denying the possibility of any unified reading. Perhaps, this book tempts us toward interpretation, then reveals that the only logic that is being sustained is narrative whim: whatever Ishiguro wants to do next, he does! I imagine him typing gleefully at his desk, yelling, “Interpret that, fuckers!” And in a book that, perhaps, is also about the sheer power of the artist to create a city and a world out of his whims, to people it from his imagination, and to force it on anybody who gets close enough to get sucked in–why not? Enough of us have dutifully plowed through hundreds of his pages, then sat around scratching our heads and writing reviews about what he meant… Surely we can take a joke!

SPOILER! I must say that, having been an event administrator for eight years, I howled with delight near the end of the book, when Ryder is taken to task by the event planner for the city’s gala, Miss Stratmann. Ryder bursts into tears, and her presence in the finale is the thing upon which all of our readings must ultimately depend (if any such readings can be said to depend, thusly–to hang together at all). Everything, in fact, depends on Miss Stratmann! So this is my final reading of the book: The Unconsoled is an extended analogy of the exercise of authorial power to the exercise of event administration. Ishiguro and Miss Stratmann are in control–and rest of us are just hapless members of their audience.

Read: October 2008

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