Ishiguro’s “The Unconsoled”

Absolutely loved “The Unconsoled” when I read it back in 2006.

I wasn’t aware that at the time of original publication in 1995 it had been panned by large parts of the literary media. I only know this now because I listened to a fascinating documentary about it just this week, presented by Natasha Hodgson in its own style just the other day on BBC R4 “Exploding Library” series. (Link live for a year.)

I’m re-reading it.


Post Note: Might not be a coincidence, but after posting the above last week, this week I found myself at the cinema watching “Living” – solely on the strength of the fact we have a new cinema locally. “Living”, amidst the menu of wall-to-wall DC / Marvel characters and kids pre-Christmas cartoons, we both recognised as “well-received” and with Bill Nighy in the lead role in the trailers. What’s not to like? Hadn’t actually read any reviews or done any research.

We spotted Ishiguro in the opening titles, but it wasn’t until afterwards I checked out the creative history. Apart from the fact the story is tremendously powerful – no spoilers here – about our individual place(s) in the human world, here and now despite being set in the 1950’s / 60’s, the whole narrative is emotive, evocative. Sure, some set-piece scenes, where the characters explicitly voice the moral(s) of the tale, but mostly person-to-person, every-day, understated, incomplete dialogues and actions with joins to be inferred to make the overall narrative. Brilliantly done.

And the emotive incidental piano music – another Ishiguro trait – even in his writing.

Given the rhetorical devices of “Unconsoled” in the links above I was instantly intrigued. Had Ishiguro written the story this way and how was the book – I’d never been aware of the existence of – turned into the screenplay?

Well, there is no Ishiguro book and the story doesn’t exist in written form in English, except as translation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” forming the basis of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 Japanese film “Ikiru”. The actual screenplay of “Living” being written by Ishiguro based on that film. Makes sense. Except now, as well as the creative writing lessons in the film / screenplay, I have two new references to follow-up. Reading lists never get shorter.


[And talking of emotive piano music – the whole of Christine (Perfect) McVie “Songbird” just closing BBC Radio 4 Today 1st December 2022. RIP.]

4 thoughts on “Ishiguro’s “The Unconsoled””

  1. The comments in your 2006 post are intriguing and I think I’ll add this to my reading list (though it sounds like a bit of a time sink).
    Some of the description reminds me of aspects of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Ever read that one? Definitely a time sink, but definitely worth it when I was in my 20s, not sure if I would say the same now….

  2. Hi Tim. Nope I don’t recognise Gravity’s Rainbow, I’ll need to check it out.

    I originally read Unconsoled as a recommendation after someone else read my review of Enduring Love. You’re kinda continuing the “pay it forward” 🙂

    A bit like The Life of Pi, Hitchhikers Guide, American Gods or The Master & Margarita – I have a fascination with narratives that are (or start as) real life on the face of it with the sense of this can’t really be real in the developing content and looking for the joins. (Whereas I find explicit fantasy / sci-fi extremely dull.)

    (PS – I still owe you a response to your Twitter question from Katoi.)

  3. Coincidentally, I saw your retweet of an article about Luddites by Thomas Pynchon.
    In that article, Pynchon discusses C. P. Snow’s views on the two cultures (scientific and literary). Pynchon notes that Snow had “the reflexes of a novelist after all.” I think Pynchon had a personal reason for bringing that point up: Both Snow and Pynchon initially studied physics, before changing fields and becoming successful novelists. So both of them might be capable of viewing those two cultures from a similar, intermediate position.
    Pynchon, with his Gravity’s Rainbow and a few other novels, helped inspire me back in the 90s to branch out from my own engineering career to also write novels. So I pay careful attention to what he says. Fascinating article, thanks for the retweet.

  4. Hi Tim,

    Yes, when I saw that tweet / article I thought of you with the Pynchon reference.
    (Subconsciously, probably why I noticed and retweeted it.)
    I’ve not really digested the article, yet, but I can see it (and the rainbow) being useful with my own writing too.


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