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  • Writer's pictureAlan Bray

Nocturnal Progression

Last week, due to constraints of space and time, we interrupted our discussion of Cellists, the last story in Nocturnes. Let’s continue where we left off.

In September, Mr. Kaufman says there’s an opening at a hotel in Amsterdam for a cellist, with “light housekeeping duties.” Tibor asks for a couple of days to decide. His hesitation makes the fellas in the band angry. “That woman’s turned him into an arrogant little shit.”

So the fellas are perhaps jealous/envious. They think Eloise is like a flirty actress, they’re mad at Tibor for not accepting his lot, which is theirs as well. They’ve all had the same dreams as he but apparently without such a mentor.

Tibor had never told Eloise about Mr. Kaufman, feeling ashamed. Now he doesn’t want to tell her about the job offer. In a scene where he’s playing for her, she stops him, saying there’s something wrong. But she thinks it’s because he’s realized she can’t play the cello, which she admits to Tibor, saying she is a virtuoso, but is yet “unwrapped.” Tibor is almost “unwrapped,” thanks to her help.

Tibor shows anger at her deception but quickly forgives her for misleading him. However, he decides to go away on a short holiday, and before leaving, lets Mr. Kaufman know he’ll take the job.

So, something occurs when he’s confronted with Eloise’s lies. It’s a turning point. Maybe he decides she hasn’t really been teaching him anything, that it’s all been a sham. And he’s running out of money. So he takes the job. But it’s more than the money issue. Maybe he’s accepting that he’s not the virtuoso he thought he was. If Eloise can lie about herself, maybe she’s been lying about his potential too, lying in order to be intimate with him.

When he returns after a week, she welcomes him emotionally, wants him to play for her, he does. They have “a wonderful afternoon together,” and are closer than ever. They don’t allude to her confession or to his absence.

Then, Peter appears. Peter—the man who loves Eloise and from whom she’s been hiding.

Eloise wants to talk to Tibor alone while Peter gets ready for dinner. She says she’ll probably marry Peter. Tibor tells her he has taken the hotel job, they wish each other happiness and part.

Para break.

“Tibor left our city soon after that.” The guys have drinks with him a last time.

“Like I said, this all happened seven years ago. Giancarlo, Ernesto, all the boys from that time except me and Fabian, they’ve all moved on. Until I spotted him in the piazza the other day, I hadn’t thought about our young Hungarian maestro for a long time. He wasn’t hard to recognize…And the way he gestured with his finger, calling for a waiter, there was something—maybe I imagined this—something of the impatience, the off-handedness that comes with a certain kind of bitterness. But even that’s unfair…it seemed he’d lost that youthful anxiety to please, and those careful manners he had back then…perhaps he has a day job behind a desk somewhere. Maybe he had some business to do nearby and came through our city just for the old time’s sake, who knows? If he comes back to the square, and I’m not playing, I’ll go over and have a word with him.”

Seven years ago, the band blamed Eloise because they believed she’d made Tibor think he was talented and then abandoned him. The reader sees a different story—so does Tibor, I think. The story about the connection between Eloise and Tibor doesn’t have that much to do with the music. She needed him, he needed her. He needed her to make him feel special, and she needed him as a way to hide from and delay the inevitable marriage to Peter which represented something, a compromise, a settling for something less than what she’d dreamed of.

So both Tibor and Eloise transform in the story, accepting less and giving up on their dreams. At the end, we don’t know how Tibor himself feels about the encounter with Eloise, and we know nothing of Eloise. We do know they had a powerful connection that the narrator didn’t understand. The narrator, as is true in the other stories, does not change. He is the storyteller.

We might recall from the first post about Nocturnes that Ishiguro stated the book was not comprised of short stories, on the contrary, he saw the sections linked like movements in a symphony. How about this?

As we’ve gone through Nocturnes, I’ve mentioned themes and motifs that recur. Each story makes some mention of windows and doors and features a first person narrator who is a musician; the action in each story often culminates in a scene set during the early evening, the end of the day. The narrators are unreliable and clueless about the characters and events they storytell about. And these character subjects are typically a couple or a part of one, who are experiencing stress and heartbreak.

These are the elements that connect the five parts.

But is there a progression, the way there would be in a musical piece? Or a novel?

Crooners tells the story through Jan of a cold and cynical arrangement made of their marriage by Lindy and Tony Gardner. Come Rain or Come Shine has glimmers of sincerity between the characters, despite Ray’s shenanigans. In Malvern Hills, the couple who are the subject of the story, Tilo and Sonja, are sincerely touching and tragic as they confront long-standing problems in their marriage. Nocturnes is funny and slapstick, but ultimately sad as the narrator, Steve, winds up alone. And in Cellists, we read about a real, although fleeting, connection between Tibor and Eloise.

So it seems Nocturnes begins with a revelation of considerable cynicism about love, and conclude with a multi-layered showing of tenderness between people who sincerely connect and part. Between these, we have a tale of a marriage in which the partners try to trick each other into reconciliation, one of two people facing the dissolution of their marriage, and then a story about the relationship between two people who clumsily try to help each other but eventually part ways.

A complex and satisfying book, my friends.

Till next time and a new book, Sally Rooney’s Normal People.



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