A Tourist in Search of Home

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Perhaps it was the cover that first attracted me to the book. It showed a headless man in a suit and tie, with a vast hinterland of minor characters stretching out to the edges. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this image captures perfectly the concerns of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Unconsoled. Ryder, its protagonist, is both no man and everyman; as the quintessential modern character, he is empty as we are all empty.

The Unconsoled was Ishiguro’s big risk, the novel that divided critics, that John Carey and The Times called a ‘masterpiece’ but that other critics greeted with incomprehension. I came to it shortly after its publication. It was 1997 and I was 17, developing a taste for Kafka and for surreal and miserable Russian novels – the tortured faith of Dostoevsky, the angsty absurdism of Gogol’s ‘Diary of a Madman’, ‘The Nose’ and ‘The Greatcoat’. In those days, Central and Eastern European fiction seemed to speak to my adolescent self far more than the peaceful English classics. I would imagine the looming neo-Gothic quads of my boarding-school as a snowy Prague or Petersburg through which I would wander like one of Kafka’s protagonists.

And, funnily enough, The Unconsoled reads a little as if it’s been translated into English from Czech, Russian or Polish; the language seems strangely stilted. The writing projects a sense of comic unease. Compare its opening with that of Kafka’s Th

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About the contributor

David Barnes regularly gets lost in the alleyways of cities like Prague, Venice and London. In his spare time he masquerades as an academic and has written on such diverse subjects as hip-hop lyrics, Victorian architecture and Italian fascism.

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