‘What I’m trying to tell you is this.’ She said more softly, scratching an earlobe. It was a beautifully shaped earlobe.
‘No matter what they wish for, no matter far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.’ (Birthday Girl)
I climbed through the trapdoor into the world of Murakami, the weird and wonderful world that never fails to entice and intrigue me.
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a collection of short stories where even the mundane is rarely ever just that. His characters are always just outside normal, like they’ve walked through a door and found that you can only open it from the other side, and they are shut out. I always wonder if this is what Murakami thinks of people generally, or of the Japanese, or even himself, or whether he just has an incredible imagination containing an almost limitless supply of outside-normal characters. They are all here, the students, the Jazz Heads, the happily married and the cheaters, the lonely and the spaghetti lovers.
For some reason, while I enjoy reading about the minutiae of everyday life in a novel, I always expect the weird and wonderful in short stories, the lack of a proper ending, or conclusion, the lack of expanse producing combustible results as the characters are forced to jump into the situation without hesitation, and so really, Murakami is a great fit.
I enjoyed the light hearted fairytale of Birthday Girl, while Hunting Knife for me had a brooding menace about it, which was possibly completely in my head. Late-Stage Capitalism explores how two people realise they can never go back, even by going forward.
That was the only way we could grasp what we were supposed to understand at that time. If this had been long ago, that wouldn’t have been the case – we would have had sex, and grown even closer. We might have ended up happy. But we’d already passed that point. That possibility was sealed up, frozen solid. And it would never open up again. (Late-Stage Capitalism – A folklore for my generation)
If you have read Norwegian Wood you will recognise Firefly, where the novel germinated from, and man eating cats was blown up into Sputnik Sweetheart, as Murakami explains in his introduction.
Of course there are dollops of the unreal in the collection. The short Dabchick, A ‘Poor Aunt’ story, the despairing Ice Man and the brilliantly named Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes (look out for the Sharpie Crows), the latter Murakami’s swipe at the Japanese Literary establishment, something he himself has always sat just outside of.
One of my favourites of the collection, The Seventh Man is a look at the effect fear and grief can have on a life
The Seventh man fell silent and turned his gaze upon each of the others. No one spoke or moved or even seemed to breathe. All were waiting for the rest of his story. Outside, the wind had fallen, and nothing stirred. The Seventh Man brought his hand to his collar once again, as if in search of words. (The Seventh Man)
Another favourite is the poignant Chance Traveller, in which Murakami considers the strange coincidences and the surprising impact they can have on your life, based on personal experience. The story is from a friend of his, and Murakami bookends it with his own thoughts.
The collection ends with the wonderful The Shinagawa Monkey, featuring the ingenius Mrs Sakaki and a talking monkey.
I always never plan to buy Murakami when I shop for books, and I always come home with one, but next time I’m out I will be on the hunt for the Elephant Vanishes, his other collection published in English
Was the god of Jazz hovering in the sky above Boston, giving me a wink and a smile and saying, ‘Yo, you dig it?’ (Chance Traveller)