This is not a review of British author Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes: Five stories of Music and Nightfall. It’s a meditation on impermanence inspired by his writing.
Mono no aware is the Japanese idea of the pathos of things, expressed by Ishiguro as sensitivity for a past that seeps into the present of his characters’ lives. Their lives exist as words on paper, bound up in paragraphs of unresolved melancholy, tied inextricably to the falling of the day.
In Nocturnes one story tells how in their college days Emily and Raymond would listen to several versions of old American standards like Come Rain or Come Shine, say, by Sarah Vaughn, then Ray Charles, arguing over the lyrics or the interpretation. They’d argue whether Georgia on My Mind should be sung as though Georgia was a woman or the place in America. They especially liked recordings like Ray Charles singing Come Rain or Come Shine—“where the words themselves were happy, but the interpretation was pure heartbreak.”
Today before dawn. The snow falls softly, misty in the light of an almost full moon orbiting far above the clouds of tiny ice crystals colliding to become snowflakes. A foot so far. Texts from Jason, age 11, give moment to moment updates from ninety miles away. One-and-a-half feet. Hail. Hail stopped. 6:15am waiting for someone to give the okay to go out.
Daytime. The steep hill next to the house, five-feet of free-fall on a sled with runners that work in no more than four inches of snow. Three little girls at a time. Mommy with the baby. A struggle back up to the top, all of us round like snowmen in our leggings, sweaters, coats, scarves, hats that tie under the chin. Someone has to go potty.
Nighttime. On reservoir hill we climb and climb to the bonfire in the chill. We pile onto toboggans five or six at a time, the front one cross-legged, the others in turn with each pair of legs straddling the one in front. Pushing with our hands till we tilt downward, a gasp of cold air, snow in our faces, shrieks of delight and freedom, leaning together. Leaning, leaning to avoid the trees that mark the bottom and beyond the parked cars and the road. We roll off into a tumult of legs and freezing fingers. Uphill again. Down and up. I’ll marry of these boys.
Daytime. Last year when snow was a constant. A plastic sled that looks like a butter dish, another in the shape of a saucer. The older boy on his own, whizzing downhill from the takeoff point near the garage, a sharp left and down the open pipe line between wooded slopes. A tilt upward on the edge of the road where the township plow pushed its load. Then me with the younger boy sliding, sliding, leaning, laughing, petering to a halt to one side of a brush pile. Together we start back, him with his hiking stick for balance, me pulling the sled. Slowly we make it all the way to the top. The man that I married takes his turn alone.
Together, we once saw Ray Charles at the first Hampton Jazz Festival in 1968. He started Georgia on My Mind, but stopped to complain about too much noise from the audience and the smell of marijuana.
On Kazuo Ishiguro’s page, Sarah Vaughn’s 1954 version of April in Paris plays. Raymond says, “I knew it was a long track, at least eight minutes… for another few minutes at least, we were safe, and we kept dancing under the night sky.”
In addition to Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of the novels An Artist of the Floating World, Never Let Me Go, A Pale View of Hills, The Unconsoled, When We Were Orphans, The Buried Giant, and The Remains of the Day.