A Village After Dark by Kazuo Ishiguro (Short Fiction review)

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Last night, I picked Kazuo Ishiguro's A Village After Dark at random. Ishiguro's other works are a lot more popular, especially his Never Let Me Go, which I still see on someone's blog every month. Because of all the hype, it could be a while before I read the book, but I saw the story as a chance to sample his writing.

When A Village After Dark begins, an old man named Fletcher is navigating his way through the streets of a village in England, trying to find something that jogs his memory. The village used to be like home to him once, in days of his youth, when he was also a very popular figure in the area. He used to give speeches and get people inspired to do something and work towards a common goal. But it is never mentioned what exactly the nature of his talks were - were they political, religious, or social? When he finally arrives at a door, he decides to knock, just in case it is someone who recognizes him. At the same time, a young girl who had pursued him keeps telling him how much she had heard of him and his friends, and how her friend Wendy was very sure it was Fletcher when he passed them earlier.

Once the door that he knocked at opens, the people inside do recognize him, but they also acknowledge that he has become some sort of a "ragamuffin" and are surprised that they were "ever under his spell". Fletcher however walks straight to the fireplace, stares at it for a while, recognizes the house as a place he had stayed in years ago, and decides that he wants to nap a bit in one of the beds before he even socializes.

A Village After Dark is a very strange story, but it was also a very intellectual one. As I read the story, there was something at the back of my mind saying something was amiss. I couldn't quite put my finger to it - but it sounded to me like a Murakami world, where the rules were different from those we know, and people did anything weird and didn't perceive it as weird. Was this one of those worlds? Where a man can just go barging into some strange house, walk in, and even sleep in that house without the hosts getting antsy?

Or was this an old man who had gone senile, and was thus imagining all his actions from his warped yardstick, and therefore they make sense to him, but the other characters aren't really acting as he claimed them to be? The town that's described sounded very decrepit that it could have been a post-apocalyptic setting or an impoverished village that had seen good times. Many houses looked rundown, and the people were all described as being dressed in tatters. Funnily, most of those people had the sense that they were doing much better than the other person. Fletcher himself kept mentioning many times how he was one of the more important people, and some of his friends weren't and that the people shouldn't really worship his less-important friends so much.

But my strongest feeling was that this was a dream. In dreams, time and space have no meaning. The manner in which time slowed when Fletcher asserted his importance, and how it seemed to speed up at other times was interesting. It was also fascinating how one character appeared to always have been there waiting for him, right when he was left alone and looking for what to do next. Or it could also have been that the real Fletcher is in a coma or in that place between life and death.

I enjoyed A Village After Dark more than I expected to. When I started reading it, I was quite perplexed with whatever felt amiss to me that I considered putting it down. But at the same time, the strangeness of the story intrigued me, because clearly there is something that is not quite right in this world. I also appreciated that we never know what kind of talks Fletcher gave, since it fit well with any of the possible scenarios - how the leaders come and go and how their talks 10 years ago could be inappropriate now. Although it isn't ever stated clearly what kind of setting it was, the story left me thoughtful about all the possible options. If A Village After Dark were a book, it would definitely be a book club worthy one.


I read this story online on the The New Yorker.


11 comments:

Helen Murdoch said...

As you say, this is an author that I see on blogs on a regular basis. However, I haven't been compelled to read any of his work though I am not sure why. Too intellectual? Too "difficult"? I am not sure. But a short story seems like a good idea

Harvee said...

My take: The fantasy of an old man looking back on his past and trying to capture past glory and fame? And the people in the village only wanting to get rid of him by leading him out of the village and pointing him to a bus stop. Interesting story.

Zohar said...

Sounds like an excellent and thoughtful book. I appreciate books which make you think after you finished them. Some books I might even enjoy more after I finished reading.

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

Ryan St.Onge said...

Although I have not read this particular story, the comparison to Murakami is a good one. However, I find that Murakami often descends into wierdness for the sake of being wierd, while Ishiguro maintains trajectory throughout his narratives.

Ti said...

I enjoyed Never Let Me Go but that is my only experience with this writer and I did not know that he wrote short stories as well. I do not consider his writing to be anything like Murakami's though. Murakami is more of an observer and gives you everything he observes whereas Ishiguro seems a bit more detached. 

Lena Sledge's Blog said...

Great review. I enjoy reading short fiction. This one sounds great, I like thought provoking stories.

Robyn said...

Sounds like a very interesting story.  From your description, it does sound very Murakami-like.  In the sense I often get from Murakami, that things both do and don't make sense.  The narrative structure is weird...people get sucked into televisions or fall asleep for long periods of time.  Which is weird, but seems to tell an emotional and psychological story that does work.  I'm surprised because Ishiguro's work has never struck me in that same way.

g said...

read 'the unconsoled' by ishiguro! it is so similar i was left with the feeling that this short story was part of an initial draft for 'the unconsoled', with the names changed. basically a book version of this story.

Athira / Aths said...

That's strange! But I will have to check that book out. I enjoyed this one sufficiently so will have to read his other works.

Illustrated Shorts said...

I also wrote a review of this piece, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I wish however I'd read yours first! It's also been suggested that Ishiguro never intended the story to be a stand alone narrative, but part of a wider exercise. Still, the New Yorker published it. Not sure what that implies...

http://illustratedshorts.com/review-of-a-village-after-dark-by-kazuo-ishiguro/

Athira / Aths said...

I find it interesting that this story was meant to be a part of bigger things. I think this story had plenty of potential to be built upon.