Sunday, January 14, 2018

Haruki Murakami - Men Without Women (Harvill Secker, 2017) ****

Is there anything like Murakami? No, there is nothing like Murakami. Whether in novels or in seven short stories, as is the case here, he keeps amazing us. As much by his writing skills and style - well-paced, easy to read - as for his humanity and the sympathy he shows for his characters, and his very special twist of mind to present things in a slightly different way than you would expect. Even after all these years, that's what keeps surprising, that's what keeps his novels interesting, and his stories a pleasure to read.

In this book, Murakami offers us seven short stories, all conceptually linked because the main character is each time a lonely man. They live normal lives. Then something happens. In the interaction with other people, something goes wrong. They try to redress the situation, by taking unusual actions, or revenge, or only by wondering what to do about it.

As with most Murakami novels, the whole world is one of small wonders. The wonders of the ordinary. In their dialogues, the characters often ask very open questions to each other. They are curious, but in a friendly way, really willing to understand what's happening. Interestingly enough, often the answers remain vague and mysterious.

Just one example: in one story, a young man, Kino, owns a bar, where jazz music is played (something Murakami himself did for a while). One of his most loyal customers, the quiet man Kamita comes up to him.

"Mr Kino", Kamita said rather formally, after he'd paid his bill. "I find it regrettable that it's come to this". 
"Come to this?" Kino repeated. 
"That you will have to close the bar. Even if only temporarily". 
Kino stared at Kamita, not knowing how to respond. 
Close the bar? 
Kamita glanced around the deserted bar, then turned back to Kino. "You haven't quite grasped what I'm saying, have you?"
"I don't think I have"
"I really liked this bar a lot", Kamita said, as if confiding in him. "It was quiet, so I could read, and I enjoyed the music. I was very happy when you opened the bar here. Unfortunately though, there are some things missing". 
"Missing?" Kino said. He had no idea what this could mean. All he could picture was a teacup with a tiny chip in its rim. 
"That gray cat won't be coming back", Kamita said. 
"For the time being, at least". 
"Because this place is missing something?"
Kamita didn't reply. 
Kino followed Kamita's gaze, and looked carefully around the bar, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. He did, though, get a sense that the place felt emptier than ever, lacking vitality and color. Something beyond the usual, just-closed-for-the-night feeling. 

Roles are turned around, questions are asked, normalcy turns to strangeness.

A little gem. As so often with Murakami. I've read everything by him, yet he keeps surprising. Just by being himself.

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