Short Story 1: Kazuo Ishiguro, Crooner

It seemed like a good idea to start my short story reading project with the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Kazuo Ishiguro. If I’m going to learn anything from reading short stories, a Nobel Prize is probably a good place to start.

It also seemed like a good idea to start my project two weeks early to make up for the times that I’m probably going to be stuck into a novel, or writing a novel, and so will find reading more difficult to do. So here it is,

Ishiguro is a Japanese writer who has grown up predominantly in the UK. He has written seven novels, four plays, lyrics for songs, and a number of short stories. I enjoyed Never Let Me Go (both the book and the movie), and so when I was browsing in the library the other day his short story collection, Nocturnes, caught my eye. The collection is subtitled: five stories of music and nightfall. I began at the beginning with Crooner.

I’d like to keep a track of all the first lines of the stories I read in this project, because whenever I’ve been to talks on short stories they always say ‘hook them with the first line.’

First line: The morning I spotted Tony Gardner sitting among the tourists, spring was just arriving here in Venice. 

Crooner is the story of a ‘freelance’ or ‘gypsy’ musician, Janeck, who plays his guitar on the plazas of Venice. There he meets one of his musical icons, Tony Gardner, who has played an important role in the protagonist’s life because of his mother’s appreciation of his music. They strike up a conversation, and soon Janeck finds himself on a gondola, in a romantic effort to impress the Gardner’s wife. Immediately, we sense that something is amiss, and that the night time serenade is not as simple or romantic as it should be, but it is only at the end that we find out why.

The story is laced with melancholy, from Janeck about his past life in a communist country, the scenes about his mother are short but impress upon the reader the impact of a soviet life, and for the elderly singer, Gardner, who despite fame does not seem to have happiness.

The story moves between past and present, and the pacing of the story mirrors the lapping water on which the gondola travels. Just as you think you are reaching the explanation, so the writing pulls away and you are drawn with it away from understanding why Gardner is there.

When it comes the explanation is hard to swallow.  The reader’s concern stops following our narrator and leaves the gondola with the elderly singer. I wanted to know what happened to him as he stepped out onto the uneven streets of Venice, and thereafter.

For me, the ending came too soon, and the resolution didn’t satisfy me. Janeck tells us briefly what happened to the singer, but only on a surface level. Perhaps it’s a reflection of how fame allows you to see the famous and their lives – almost as photographs rather than movies. There isn’t enough depth. Perhaps it’s a reflection on a love song – that you never hear the after part of a declaration of undying love. Is it undying? Or is it just transitory?

I suppose that’s what short stories are supposed to do – dip you into the life of another person and leave you wondering about what happened to them.