Mr. Ryder, the storyteller in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled (Knopf), speaks so sincerely, humbly and clearly in the first person that we hear his voice inside ourselves; this inspires trust. We join Mr. Ryder, a preeminent pianist and world-renowned artist, in an eastern European town for a performance date during his world tour. He stays in a hotel in which "Frederick the Great is believed to have stayed," schmoozes with intellectuals at the Hungarian Cafe in Old Town and so on, until the novel promises to become a tour of old world charm with a modern aesthete for guiding light. But then we realize that the exaggerated characters, mistakes in arranging rendezvous, and discords in the adulation of Mr. Ryder are moving the story in another direction. By then it is too late to establish distance from the protagonist. We feel Mr. Ryder's anxiety when demands upon his time prove outrageous, and his dread when his polite decorum with strangers is unequal to their demands for intimacy; we suffer with him when he plummets into a universe where the natural edges of time and place warp and collapse—events that Mr. Ryder treats as normal. We want to help him as he struggles to perform his much-heralded concerts and fumbles through chance encounters with family members, but we cannot; nor can we make sense of Ishiguro's fiction about the perplexing fate of artists by calling the novel an allegory. I'm not sure whether it was the Kafkaesque humour arising from the author's attention to incongruous detail or the novel's anti-climactic ending that led to the unnerving, mystifying experience I had while reading the book.