Haruki Murakami: Men Without Women
Another Murakami book has been published, with this one being his fourth collection of short stories.
I had a rush of excitement when I opened the cover and started reading the first story. Murakami creates a world of mystery in the most ordinary of settings. He can write the most ordinary of sentences, and then switch things up a gear with just a few words.
For example: “At any rate, his lucky life continued for some thirty years, a long time, when you think about it. But one day, he fell in love.”
Now, that’s a great sentence isn’t it? And it’s the same throughout the book, with these knockout lines coming out of nowhere.
Although we’ve become familiar with his world of Tokyo night owls, jazz and strange phone calls, its as though Murakami has deliberately removed any traces of the quirkiness of his famous novels.
The women seem to have come out of forties noir films and the male characters are tougher than usual. Murakami has always had an affinity with American authors and the book’s title recalls the same name of a collection of stories written by Hemingway.
What we get here are seven stories which test the short story format to its limit but nearly always succeed. Four of the stories, which appeared in the New Yorker are included, the knock-out here being Kino. The prose is as crisp as ever. Sample sentence: ‘There was a girl Kitaru had known since they were in elementary school together.’ This being Murakami, its going to be the kind of sentence that alerts us that things are going to become interesting. In Yesterday, the Murakami-like character remembers a friend who deliberately apes the working class Kansai dialect. He also sings Beatles songs. Things become highly intriguing when Kitamuru suggests to Tanimura that he start dating his girlfriend since he is too busy with his exams to be able to concentrate on dating her.
Here’s another one from Kino:
‘Kino remembered the first time the man had come to the bar.’
Kino starts with the most basic of ideas, of a man being left by his wife, and takes us on the most extraordinary journey. Many of his stories have a film-like quality (although directors have struggled to get his work to translate on screen. But Kino (which is German for cinema) would probably make for a great thriller. There’s a jazz bar, which only has two customers, and a sexy woman covered in cigarette burns whom Kino sleeps with. Then the story gets darker:
‘Fall came, and the cat disappeared. Then the snakes started to show up.’
The story is laced with a ready- made soundtrack of jazz records, where the music is described to enable us to almost hear it being played: ‘Kino sat on a stool and listened to the Coleman Hawkins LP with the title track “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” He found the bass solo amazing.”
Those of us who have read Murakami’s work will also find his solos amazing. Although I only wish that the last story Men without Women could have been stronger. Not only stronger, but with more direction. It’s about a man who remembers a relationship he had with a woman who has just killed herself. Only the way Murakami describes it is not as interesting as any of the other stories. I got the feeling that even Murakami wasn’t sure where he was going with that one.
But what a collection otherwise. I felt as though some of these experiences had happened to me, and maybe there are universal truths here that everyone can relate to. A short story can feel like the writer didn’t have enough ideas for a book but only a few scraps of story ideas. But there’s more than enough here. And like a lost lover, we remember the stories long after the affair is over.