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Posted February 2, 2007
Dementia Is Surreal
It's a pretty good indication that I'm not enjoying a book when it takes me 9 days to read the last 100 pages, even taking into account a desire to savor (when I'm lucky) the wondrous synthesis of ideas as the author draws the storyline to a close. Perhaps it is unwise to read reviews that others have written about a book before you write your own. What I noticed was that The Unconsoled was frequently described as Kafka-esque, or surreal. I am embarrassed to admit to the world (perhaps I don't have any readers) that I have never read anything by Kafka and didn't see the movie with Jeremy Irons. But I have watched Joe's Apartment and Being John Malkovich, and I was a huge fan of Twin Peaks, so I think I have a grasp of the terminology. And, yes, I suppose it is accurate to say that The Unconsoled is surreal. A large part of this derives from Ishiguro's bending of space throughout the novel. Places that seem far removed from one another turn out to be easily accessed through a series of narrow passages or underground tunnels, much like I imagine mazelike corriders beneath DisneyWorld (itself a rather surreal space). While a number of reviewers use this feature to bolster their argument that the novel represents a dream, it most reminded me of how individuals suffering from dementia attempt to rationalize their disorientation. Once I made this connection, I read the remainder of the book in the context of Ryder (a concert pianist called to an unnamed Eastern European city to assist with an artistic crisis) as an individual with dementia. He is, like those suffering from dementia, apathetic toward others and seemingly unconcerned by how his behavior might affect them. A diagnosis of dementia would also explain his abilities to know what people are thinking and what has occurred before he enters a room. He is delusional. But his delusions serve a functional purpose in that they help him fill in the blanks of his increasingly porous memory. Ryder displays other symptoms of dementia, including a lack of attention to personal appearance (he attends a number of functions in his dressing gown), impaired judgment (he leaves his son alone for hours at a cafe), disrupted sleep cycle, attentional deficits, and impulsivity. I saw the novel as actually taking place in a long-term care facility. Ryder just doesn't where he is. And since he is the narrator, neither does the reader. He doesn't initially recognize his family. Iindeed, he frequently refers to himself as an outsider and uses this self description as an excuse for both his lack of recognition of those who know him and his distant behavior. People he knew growing up England keep making appearances which would be unlikely if he actually were visiting an unfamiliar city. Following this logic, characters like Gustav (an elderly porter at the hotel who is also his wife's father) and Stephan (the hotel manager's son and a aspiring pianist himself) can be viewed as fellow residents in the institution, while Miss Collins (the resident therapist) and Mr. Hoffman (the hotel manager) are members of the staff. While my interpretation of the novel appealed to me more than that of other reviewers, I just didn't care what happened in the end. Jim Crace has said that all of his novels are metaphors for life in Birmingham, England, but I also find their facades beautiful and intricate and pleasurable. The metaphor isn't necessary to the enjoyment or understanding of the story. I honestly didn't like The Unconsoled until I came upon a metaphor that made the novel work for me, and by then I was so exhausted by it that I had no inclination to start over from the beginning to see if this insight would increase my enjoyment. But then maybe I have no appreciation of the role of art in society. As Ryder has warned me, 'One should not, in any case, attempt to make a virtue out of one's limitations' (p. 201). After all, this book was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel Award and
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Posted July 7, 2013
Masterfully written dream
Ishiguro creates a novel that moves with the pace and logic of a dream. You won't like this book if you like a steady, uncomplicated plot and reliable characters. But if you like the surreal, like books that force you accept oddity, and revel in the uncertain and bizarre and comically grotesque, this may be the book for you. This reviewer also likes House of Leaves by Danielewski, Atwood's Mad Adam series, other works by Ishiguro, Murakami's 1Q84.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 5, 2013
Posted May 13, 2009
should have been titled 'inconceivable'.
I really tried to like this book. Unfortunately it was like reading someone's unexplainable dream sequence. Afraid to say I abandoned this book half way through.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 28, 2009
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