Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Unconsoled

A couple of years ago, while browsing through a used book store, a particular book caught my eye. The Unconsoled, by Kazuo Ishiguro. I had no idea about who the author was, or his particular style. The book wasn´t  even all that cheap--- but I took it. I took it because, according to the back cover, the main character was a concert pianist.

The Unconsoled turned out to be a thoroughly confusing book, not only for the reader, but for the main character (who has no idea of what is going on, most of the time). The town where it takes place seems to exist in some kind of alternate universe where time has no meaning at all. The book is the kind of book that English majors love to dissect, spending hours talking about what the author actually meant to say and about the symbolism of the book, and its similarities to Kafka or eastern philosophy. I see that side of the book but, what made the most impact with me after reading it was its satirical portrayal of classical music and the virtuoso.

Almost all composition students I meet complain about today's audience. They whine about how people's ears must be first educated before they can begin to appreciate new music, how traditional musical education prevents interpreters from understanding their new music. One thing that made me laugh out loud in The Unconsoled was how, in that universe, people would actually be excited about Mullery's "Verticality" or Kazan's "Glass Passions" to the point of discussing the music's significance and philosophies in the pub or in the schoolyard. The idea just has something inherently silly about it, which says a lot about the great majority of modern music.

Another thing I loved about the book was the exasperating way every single person the main character met asked him (pretty forcefully, most of the time) for a favor, or an opinion about something. The way they kept expecting the main character to solve their problems reminded me of the strange sense of responsibility one feels when playing. All performing artists, regardless of their fame, have a public life of sorts. As soon as you decide to play for an audience, you are immediately taking on a responsibility, you take on yourself people's expectations; most of them complete strangers. That same sensation is what I get from this book, all of these people, strangers to the main character, asking favors of him which he cannot refuse because of a sense of responsibility to society.

And in the end everyone, including the reader, is unconsoled. That is what struck a chord with me the most, that sense of the futility of it all, after all the build up to the great concert that was supposed to save the town in some way. Sometimes I feel that after a concert, after all the preparation and work that was put into it, the horrible pressure put on the performer in the moment, and then... well, it's done; it's gone and it won't come back.

The Unconsoled is long and confusing and in the end, fulfilment hardly comes from the book, it comes from within. It is well worth the read, and maybe a musician will read more into it than most.

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