Short story: “A Village After Dark”

by look i have opinions

“A Village After Dark,” by Kazuo Ishiguro

From the May 21, 2001 New Yorker (read online here) and the September 2011 New Yorker Fiction Podcast (listen here)

4,796 words

I may have to read The Unconsoled now, since this story was apparently the model for its style. It’s perversely fascinating. What movement was the main character, Fletcher, involved in? Why does everyone he once knew treat him like a fallen idol, with mixed resentment and scorn? Why do the young people regard him as legendary? Why is he traveling in such a wretched condition, and what is his idea of making amends? I don’t think even the author knows the answers. We keep getting enough information to form a partial picture of what’s going on, but never quite enough to satisfy.

Meanwhile, Fletcher is almost unlikable, obsessed with self-justifications and ancient, petty rivalries. Maybe readers are forced to sympathize with him because he’s nearly as disoriented as we are. In some ways more so: it doesn’t strike him as strange that he completely fails to recognize his ex-lover, or that a short walk to a cottage should be replaced by a two-hour bus ride. On the podcast, somebody describes the story as an anxiety dream, which is just what it feels like.

The ending feels like a dream-logic punishment. It’s as though he’s condemned to be lost forever, so lost that he doesn’t even realize he’s lost and is still hoping for a pathetic scrap of comfort and validation. Or maybe he’s not lost, maybe he’s really headed for a warm cottage full of his admirers. Maybe the young people will be willing to overlook his vagueness and confusion: “They’ve so little else to believe in these days, you see.” It’s bleak no matter how you read it.

Reskimming this story, I notice it names England and Canada and even a few years: “In ’93, or maybe it was ’94.” Curious how it manages to evoke a nowhere time and place.