25 October, 2021

LitStaff Pick: Characters Who Didn't Get What They Deserved

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

The more you read Ishiguro’s Kafka-esque (and often misunderstood) opus, the more you understand that Ryder — a world-class concert pianist preparing to give a concert in a nameless Central European city — isn’t supposed to get what he deserves. And that’s part of what makes this surreal submersion in his consciousness so deeply brilliant. As Ryder struggles to understand his role as a cultural figure leading up to the performance, he is forced, through a seemingly random and absurd series of connections, to come to terms with a chaotic past and the disintegration of his own family. The fact that he fails to recover much besides his own sanity is inevitable, but his story is told with shifting voices that draw out the deepest and most fundamental elements of human identity. Looking in literary retrospect (The Unconsoled was published in 1995), we can see Ryder as a very special evolutionary link between Josef K. of Kafka’s The Trial and unconsoled characters of the 21st century, like Julius, the societal wanderer at the heart of Teju Cole’s Open City.

-Sam Spokony

3 thoughts on “LitStaff Pick: Characters Who Didn't Get What They Deserved

  1. Jason, good essay, but Moby's a sperm whale, not a killer whale, and if anyone's a bastard, it's that cold soul Ahab. (It's not for nothin' that I bought a Moby Dick sweatshirt to celebrate the whale.) I beg you to reconsider.

  2. Entertaining. I assumed the anti-whale bit about Moby Dick was meant to be parodic. My nomination for character who doesn't get what she deserves (by which I mean I think she's treated quite unfairly by the author/narrative): Mary Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice." The nerdy sister who doesn't have the other sisters' wit or beauty or social acumen, she's openly ridiculed by her family & ends up single & having to care for her tiresome & mismatched parents as they age. Every time I read the book, I pity this character.

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