by Kazuo Ishiguro
American readers who loved the author’s 1989 novel The Remains of the Day won’t take long figuring out they’re in for trouble with this new work. Mr. Ryder, a celebrated pianist, arrives in an unnamed European city to give a performance and a speech aimed at rousing its citizens from a collective identity crisis. But his visit descends into nightmare.
For Ryder, events do not happen in real time and space but in the eerie landscape of dreams—where hotel rooms turn into scenes from his childhood and passersby metamorphose into long-lost friends; where all around are tormented souls hopelessly longing to connect. The townsfolk bare their battered psyches to him, leaving the hapless Ryder struggling to meet their needs, his own and those of his estranged lover and young son.
As he did in Remains, the Japanese-born Ishiguro, who lives in London with his wife and daughter, tells his story through the eyes of a repressed protagonist. But unlike that novel, there is no steady accretion of detail building up to the devastating epiphany of a life unlived. So monotonous are the tone and plot that one welcomes any blips of emotion—like the moment, 342 pages in, when Ryder finally explodes at one of his fussbudget tormentors.
While occasional passages have transcendent emotional power, the book—with its dream conceit—reads like a literary experiment, but it’s an egocentric exercise. No matter how accurate the description, a dream’s true power is felt only by the dreamer and is inaccessible to everyone else. For that reason, The Unconsoled leaves the reader unsatisfied. (Knopf, $25)