Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro Faber and Faber HK$124 Clapping is an integral part of any performance, but knowing when to do so at a classical concert can be tricky if you are unfamiliar with the work. This can also be a problem for readers of Nocturnes. So oblique are the endings of the volume's five stories, all linked by music, that you might think they are movements rather than discrete works. But then the last page looms and Kazuo Ishiguro has disappeared backstage. Before you know it you are ejected from your seat, shuffling towards the exit and socked in the eye by fluorescent lights in the foyer. Ishiguro is known for causing unease. Nothing is ever quite what it seems in his stories, which is doubly disconcerting because his writing is so simple. Plain English, however, does not always produce neat stories. But it can, as several pieces in Nocturnes do, convey complex emotions that provoke disbelief, sadness and even the giggles, sometimes all in one narrative. In the first tale, Crooner, an American lounge act, Tony Gardner, is spotted in Venice by the narrator, an Eastern European guitarist whose stage is the Piazza San Marco. When the Dean Martin-like has-been asks his young fan to accompany him on a gondola to serenade his wife, the reader wonders why Ishiguro has resorted to clich?. But then Gardner's real intentions become uncomfortably clear. Crooner sets the tone for what is to come. Reflecting the title of the book, the underlying mood throughout is pensive, even when Ishiguro ventures into farce, as he does with Come Rain or Come Shine. In this hare-brained tale, Raymond turns up at the home of Charlie and Emily, whose marriage is faltering. No sooner does he arrive than Charlie leaves, allowing a slapstick series of events to take place that underscores Raymond's incompetence, which is the reason his 'friend' has left him alone with his wife. Trying to cover up evidence of his having snooped in her diary, Raymond makes it look as though the flat has been savaged by a dog. That includes recreating canine smells by boiling a boot. Improbable encounters, weakness of character, regrets and difficult relationships permeate the uneven handful of yarns, which were written especially for the book and not selected because they, like Ishiguro's 1995 novel The Unconsoled, explore the world of musicians. It may be a subject close to the Booker Prize-winning author - once an aspiring singer-songwriter - but he never shows off his specialist knowledge. We are not told about the musical skills - or lack thereof - of his characters. That is no bad thing. Not knowing whether the young song- writer in Malvern Hills has talent in no way detracts from the cheerless story that sees him meeting a married couple who dress up in silly outfits to perform Abba covers at restaurants. Could this be his future? Then there is the title tale, Nocturne, about two people who become acquainted in a Hollywood hotel while recuperating from plastic surgery. One is a saxophone player who has agreed to be cut because his ex-girlfriend and agent reckon it will help his career. The other is the starlet and wife from the first story. With their heads swaddled in bandages, the pair embark on childish adventures that promise to lead somewhere but peter out with a diminuendo. By the last story, Cellists, which centres on fraud, readers will find themselves tapping their fingers in anticipation of a thumping coda. It never comes. Ishiguro would deserve sustained applause for his first book of short stories if the tales didn't all drift to a close without denouement. An ovation would be too much to expect because Ishiguro doesn't even build up to a bow.