It’s been very tiring and even now, here in this city, there’s so much pressure on me. The people here. Obviously they’re expecting a lot of me. I mean, it’s obvious…”
But, it isn’t obvious at all. At first. Ryder has come to an unnamed European city and is welcomed to the hotel by no one. They had all given up waiting for him, as he is so late, and he doesn’t even remember viewing the schedule for the series of events in which he will be expected to appear. It seems he is a pianist of some reknown, and that he will give a much anticipated performance. However, there is a great deal he needs to sort out first.
Everyone is asking something of him. The porter, Gustav, wishes him to meet with his estranged daughter, Sophie, to see what is wrong, but when Ryder goes to the cafe where she will be it is evident they know each other already. They even have no small degree of anger and frustration between themselves. How can this be? We realize that this is a dream (with many qualities of a nightmare), or an alternate reality, or at the very least some degree of amnesia on Ryder’s part. This mystical quality is exactly what I love most about Japanese literature.
I read on with trepidation, feeling the same sensations I do when I experience an unresolved dream sequence of my own. Do you recall a terrible struggle to get some place to which you can never arrive, or do something that you somehow can no longer do? I think of trying to run when my feet feel mired in clay. I think of dreams I’ve had appearing in my classroom for the first day, woefully ill prepared, or worse, undressed.
Each page holds some element like that. One small example is this: Ryder follows a little red car to lead him to the Karwinsky Gallery, but stops en route at his wife’s urging at a pastry shop where his son enjoys the doughnuts. There is a sense of urgency about him arriving at the reception in the gallery, he is already late, and yet here they are looking at delicacies through the glass case. When he arrives st the gallery he sees the ruins of his family’s car, from when he was a child, and he climbs in remembering the times he played in it.
Gradually, we learn of more and more distress in his life, from his unhappy marriage to his mother’s emotional instability, and we wonder how any of this will be resolved. Perhaps, the very journey through these pages is a working out of his life. Yet, Ryder’s life is not the only one full of unconsolations. Gustav, the porter with an indomitable will, weakens and lies inert backstage on a cot; Brodsky, the conductor, must face his alcoholism and longings for his ex-wife, Miss Collins; Miss Collins, a psychologist, loves Brodsky but is reluctant to become entangled in his issues yet again; Ryder and Sophie seem unable to arrive at a peaceful relationship for long, much to the distress of themselves and their son, Boris.
This is a beautiful novel, elegantly told, which speaks to the complications and heartache in life of which I am so fond of reading. It is my first book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 11, and one I highly recommend.
Oh, I just put this book back on the shelves today at the book store! I took home with me Silence (Endo) and Confessions (Minato) instead. Your post is making me feel like I should have allowed myself three books!
The book sounds right up my alley. I will have it on my radar.
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Silence is certainly a worthy choice, and it did not disappoint me. I have not read the other book you chose. Do keep this on your radar, though, as it is so thought-provoking. I keep mulling it over in my mind, wondering about all its pieces.
Oooh, this sounds intriguing! I’ll keep this novel in mind. Wonderful review.
Thank you for this review, Bellezza. I always dream of being perenially late to a place. I would keep getting ready, or travelling, but I would never reach the destination. I can understand how this book would make one feel. I am surely adding it to my TBR. Thank you. 🙂
Have you seen that Kasuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel I didn’t see that coming at all, although according to him he didn’t either 😁
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I did see that Ishiguro won the Nobel, and what a worthy writer to do so! Of course, you know how partial I am to Haruki Murakami, but I must admit that Ishiguro’s work carries a lot of weight; it isn’t quite so oblique. The idiots on the Booker panel of judges would do well to take some advice from the Nobel judges; the Booker hasn’t determined an excellent writer in years.
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