Edel Grace

Programmer, Developer, Enthusiast

Haruki Murakami

Book Review: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Sep 24, 2018 | Comments

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Across seven dazzling tales, award-winning internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men, who, in their own ways find themselves alone. Some a trapped indoors, some in their own heads; they are chauffeured around in cars by silent women or haunted by the ghosts of women they once knew.

Here are lovesick doctors, students, ex-boyfriends, actors, bartenders, and even Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, brought together to tell stories that speak to us all. In Men WIthout Women Murakami has crafter another contemporary classic, marked by the same wry humour and pathos that have defined his entire body of work.

I don’t like Murakami’s characters. What I mean by that is if his characters were real, I would probably hate them all. But… Murakami is really good at writing interesting characters. They may not be likeable or all too believable but they do grab your attention. Men Without Women is filled to the brim with those characters.

Off the top of my head, these are the characters that I remember:

  • A plain look female chauffer who drives an actor around
  • An actor who is driven around and retells his story of his wife and her lovers before she passed away
  • A lackadaisical wanderer who lets his friend go on a date with his girlfriend
  • A middle-aged man who never stays attached to any woman until it happens and his heart breaks and then he literally starves himself to death
  • A man who every single person he has dated eventually killed themselves
  • A woman who thinks she was an eel in a previous life
  • A Gregor Samsa if he was like a bug or something and wakes up as a human

There is one story that really stuck in my mind from this book, An Independent Organ. Dr. Tokai is a plastic surgeon who is also a serial dater. He doesn’t like commitment. All the women he dates usually have a husband or a boyfriend. He enjoys how casual and short-term his relationships are. Until, one day, he falls in love. The woman he falls in love with leaves him for another man and from his heartbreak, he slowly starves himself to death.

The whole “my heart is broken time to die” thing isn’t what I took away from this story. At one point in the story, Dr. Tokai talks to the narrator about concentration camps. He talks about an accomplished, wealthy man with many hobbies who is suddenly thrown into a concentration camp and is stripped away of all the things that defined him. Dr. Tokai was fascinated at the man’s existential crisis as a result of this. In some way, I think Dr. Tokai starved himself to find out who he really was.

I don’t think I fully understood this logic when I first read it. I don’t know what it’s like to starve, of course. How could that intense starvation ever bring you to who you really are? To me, there is nothing more human than the performing arts or working or cultivating a family. Maybe they’re just distractions to keep us busy and our real personalities from ever being realized.

Even now, I keep thinking I get the meaning behind it but I feel like I keep falling short of it. Is it about coping with loss? Is it about not knowing how good you have it until you lose it? Is it about stripping away all the bullshit and confronting yourself? Or maybe Dr. Tokai was so madly in love that all reason left him and he starved away his sorrows. I refuse to believe that is what Murakami wanted to portray. Still. It made me think for a couple of good days.

Another noteworthy story is Samsa In Love. It’s a tongue in cheek spin-off of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. In the original, Gregor is a human who suddenly wakes up as a bug. In Murakami’s story, Gregor is a non-human entity who suddenly wakes up as a human. Gregor experiences falling in love for the first time after he meets the locksmith’s daughter. Nothing profound, in my humble opinion, but a good chuckle. I appreciate the reference.

Interestingly enough, this might be one of the better Murakami books I’ve read. There a lot of hit and misses from Murakami and I just keep reading them because they’re so familiar to me. I think this is worth reading, however. I never really like how Murakami writes women in his main novels. Admittedly, this anthology doesn’t differ that much from his usual portrayals but it is a touch more down to earth than usual and that I definitely appreciate.

Also. How does Murakami write so much???

Book Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Aug 6, 2018 | Comments

Disclaimer: Spoilers abound!

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hyperkinetic and relentlessly inventive, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is Haruki Murakami’s deep dive into the very nature of consciousness.

Across two parallel narratives, Murakami draws readers into a mind-bending universe in which Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to a dazzling effect. What emerges is a novel that is at once hilariously funny and a deeply serious meditation on the nature and uses of the mind.

This novel alternates between two worlds. There is the “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” and “The End of the World.” The former takes place in reality, where the main character is racing against time to prevent “The End of the World.” Interestingly enough, the end of the world takes place in a single mystical village where people’s memories of their past life do not exist. It is a utopia where everyone is assigned a task to do until the end of time.

After reading this novel, I came to the conclusion that I read too much Murakami. There is something similar across many of his protagonists that I just can’t pinpoint. It’s nothing too general like the fact that they are all men with strange thoughts about sex and women (although a lot of them do have that in common). Maybe I’m just projecting but it seems like a large number of his protagonists are rather… Simple. Maybe even boring. They never think too strongly or feel too strongly. It seems like things are just simply happening to them and they are just bringing us along for the ride.

Which is why I breezed through the “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” chapters and absorbed “The End of the World” chapters as much as I could. The protagonist in “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” is pretty much the stereotypical Murakami leading man. In “the End of the World,” the protagonist is largely the same but also different.

There seems to be a real danger that the protagonist is trying his best to prevent. He does not want to lose his mind as he remembers it. Despite being really dull and drab in the real world, the importance of having emotions and memories is a great driving force for the protagonist. After falling in love with the emotionless librarian in the village, he is motivated to cling to his mind.

I was also pulled in by the fantasy aspects of “The End of the World.” The little village of people in an immortal land is just really interesting. I really wanted to uncover the mysteries of this world. The revelation in the novel was a bit of a disappointment but I enjoyed travelling and discovering the characters in this world.

However, being pulled back into reality is disappointing. While there was a real sense of urgency that I appreciated (really, I just wanted it to be over), I didn’t feel the weight of the risk as much as the risk of never leaving “the End of the World.”

I can’t really seem to make my mind up about this novel. I think this might be one of the better Murakami books but it still isn’t great. I probably wouldn’t reread this book, like I would say, Norweigan Wood.

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My name is Edel Grace Altares. My programming interests include full stack development and back end development. My languages of choice are Python and Java. Outside of programming I enjoy crocheting, video games, cats, historical fiction, and reading.

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