I’ve been so bad a reading this month that I thought I’d never finish this collection of short stories. There were so many times that I fell asleep with the page open and had to leave story in the middle. It’s just been a stressful few weeks recently and I’ve been feeling it. I’ve managed to get a few days off this week which has been perfect. I got things done I needed to, had some time to relax, and got a quick break before the madness of Christmas. That’s always a fun time to be working in a kitchen. At least I don’t have to come face-to-face with any customers. Apparently, they’ve already started being quite difficult and short-tempered. It’s the reason I don’t like making a fuss when I’m eating out. I’ve seen what the people I work with have to go through and, when things have gone wrong, been on the receiving end of their annoyance. Be nice to your waiter/waitress. But I feel like I’m getting off topic. Long, rambling story short, I finished this book today on my day off. So let’s do this.
It’s been over a decade since Haruki Murakami released his last collection of short stories but it is an area that he always excels in. The short form works well with the Murakami-isms that his fans love without overwhelming them with his quirkiness. I’d say that Murakami is a lot like Wes Anderson because you either really buy into his world or you don’t. He’s the Marmite of the literary set: you either love him or you hate him. And I bloody love him. As I’ve pointed out before on this blog. So, I was understandably excited when this book was released last year. In fact, it was the first book on my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2017’ list. The fact that it has taken me until now to finally read it speaks volumes bout how my TBR is fairing. But I’ve finally done it.
And, unsurprisingly, I really loved it. The seven story collection is made up of tales about men who have lost women in their lives. Men who, for various reasons, are trying to understand the women that are or were in their lives and face up to what their life will be or is without them. As with any short story collection, there were pieces that I was more drawn to than others but, as with all Murakami, the snapshot of life shown within them is beautiful. Each story offers us a different look at modern life but all are connected with common themes. It is by no means a positive book but it is an in-depth look at human behaviour. It is also not the kind of thing to read if you like closure.
None of the stories have been written to provide any answers for their readers. Murakami understands how unfathomable life can be and refuses to tell us the things we really want to know. In the titular short story, the narrator is awoken at 1 am to be told that his ex-girlfriend has killed herself. He hasn’t spoken to the woman in years and cannot understand why her husband would have rung him. As he puts it, he is stuck “dangling between ignorance and knowledge”. Something he comes to share with all of the men within the books and, in turn, ourselves as readers. We live in a state of constant confusion and never have the satisfactory ending we want.
Take the story of a young housebound man who is enjoying a perfunctory sexual relationship with his home help. After having sex, they lie in bed and she tells stories of her past. We never get to hear the end of her story as the story ends with the young man worrying he might never see her again. Throughout these tales, we all become, in one way or another, men without women. There is an uneasiness surrounding the stories in this book that will put many readers on edge as they read. There is so much context that we never know and no resolutions. As in life, the people we meet come and go never to be heard of again. It’s dark, sad, and, highly addictive.
Though there is plenty of humour and positivity to be found in this collection. All we need to do is look at the reversal of Kafka’s Metamorphosis where an insect wakes up to discover he has turned into Gregor Samsa. Trying to come to terms with being human set against a war-torn Prague. Not only is this reworking naturally funny, it offers a brief glimpse of hope to those needing a boost. Upon experiencing sexual arousal, Gregor realises that he is looking forward to trying to understand the world with the help of the woman who caused his state. That life is worth going through with someone.
And, when you think about it, even the other men without women have their moments of sharing. They tell their stories to strangers in a bar or the back of a car in the hopes of understand their situation a little more. Despite living lives where they are, for one reason or another, cut-off from the wider world, these men only find some relief or insight by connecting with someone else. These tales show us, in their own little way, that life isn’t easy to understand. It isn’t a fairy tale and we don’t get the endings we want. It is, however, full of moments that leave their marks. That going through life and doing the little things is the only way we can get past the big things. That life, in the end, is better when you have someone to share your story.