Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled has long been one of my favourite books, but it was only during a hectic foreign junket a couple of years ago that I got a firsthand understanding of the novel’s strange world. It’s a world of sleeplessness and dislocation, marked by a sense of never quite knowing where you are, what you’re there for and what you have to do next. It’s the world of the constant traveller, someone who seemingly spends most of his time stumbling from check-in to boarding gate. (No wonder Pico Iyer is among its admirers!)
The Unconsoled was probably Ishiguro’s least well-received book on its initial publication, but I suspect it will endure the longest. It’s about a world-famous pianist, Mr Ryder, who has arrived in an unnamed European city for a performance but who only learns things about his visit (and about himself) as he goes along; he is shunted around by people, encounters figures from his distant past, and never gets a satisfactory meal or rest. The baffling, surrealistic narrative can frustrate even the most patient reader, but stay with it and you’ll be moved by Ishiguro’s subtle commentary on the myopia that allows people to keep reaching for superficial rewards, and how interior worlds can be much more compelling than “reality”.