A Village After Dark by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2001
The magic trick:
Controlling the tone through the narrator’s reactions
This little trip home could very easily be played up as a surrealist nightmare, but it would be a much more boring story than it is had Ishiguro gone that route. Instead, there is comedy drawn from the narrator’s reactions to the bizarre series of events and people of the story.
Clearly, this is not a story to be taken literally. The narrator meets people who say extraordinary things about his age, his unseemly appearance and odor. The narrator runs into someone he hasn’t seen since he was 10, and the encounter plays out in a very odd mix of guilt, bitterness and normalcy.
In fact, that mix is probably a good way to describe the entire story. The narrator never reacts to the story’s events with what could be called a predictable response. He focuses on the petty details and misses any larger point, which makes him all the more a target for satire.
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a story that sits in this mood – comedy, horror, regret and social commentary. And that’s quite a trick on Ishiguro’s part.
“Roger,” I said, “I’m just on my way to visit this young lady’s friends. They’ve gathered together to receive me. Otherwise I’d have come and looked you up straightaway. As it was, I had it in my mind as the next thing to do, even before getting any sleep tonight. I was just thinking to myself, However late things finish at the young people’s cottage, I’ll go and knock on Roger’s door afterward.”
“Don’t worry,” said Roger Button as we all started to walk again. “I know how busy you are. But we ought to talk. Chew over old times. When you last saw me—at school, I mean—I suppose I was a rather feeble specimen. But, you know, that all changed when I got to fourteen, fifteen. I really toughened up. Became quite a leader type. But you’d long since left Canada. I always wondered what would have happened if we’d come across each other at fifteen. Things would have been rather different between us, I assure you.”
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