Was Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled the Greatest Literary Practical Joke of All Time?
From the Lit Century Podcast with Sandra Newman
and Catherine Nichols
Welcome to Lit Century: 100 Years, 100 Books. Combining literary analysis with an in-depth look at historical context, hosts Sandra Newman and Catherine Nichols choose one book for each year of the 20th century, and—along with special guests—will take a deep dive into a hundred years of literature.
In this episode, author J. Robert Lennon joins hosts Sandra Newman and Catherine Nichols to discuss Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel-in-the-form-of-an-extended-dream, The Unconsoled (1995). Why is this novel called a masterpiece by some (including the participants in this conversation), while being dismissed as rambling and pointless by others?
And, as a bit of supplemental reading on The Unconsoled, here’s a piece giving Ishiguro’s own list of the dream techniques he used in the novel.
From the episode:
Sandra Newman: James Wood said that this book invented its own category of badness. Michiko Kakutani’s take on it was this: “Certainly the philosophical points Mr. Ishiguro wants to make in The Unconsoled are important, but they are lost along the way in his dogged shaggy-dog narrative, a narrative that for all the author’s intelligence and craft sorely tries the reader’s patience.” It’s almost as if the book set up this practical joke intending to be received in this way. These people are replicating the reaction of the audience at the recital at the end of the book, when Mr. Brodsky conducts this orchestral performance, which is a Sattler kind of performance, which is really perverse and weird and too exciting, and the audience is infuriated and rejects it.
J. Robert Lennon is the author of nine novels, including Familiar, Broken River, and Subdivision, and the story collections Pieces for the Left Hand, See You in Paradise, and Let Me Think. He lives in Ithaca, New York. His most recent books are available for order and pre-order here. You can find all his other books, and more information here.
Sandra Newman is the author of the novels The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, Cake, and The Country of Ice Cream Star, longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post and NPR. She is the author of the memoir Changeling as well as several other nonfiction books. Her work has appeared in Harper’s and Granta, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
Catherine Nichols is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Jezebel and The Seattle Review, among others. She lives in Boston.