Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Haruki Murakami)

Murakami’s stories don’t seem written so much as transcribed directly from the subconscious, built on the unfathomable logic of dreams. They often give the impression that something mysterious and enormous is just out of sight, intruding just a small corner into an otherwise normal world.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman brings together 24 uncollected stories from throughout his career, including several that were later worked into novels. It’s trademark Murakami in a lot of ways—Kafka or Borges as written by Raymond Carver, a profusion of terse, typically unremarkable first-person narrators grappling with mysterious women, inexplicable strangers, strange deaths and disappearances, and, in one, a talking monkey. (Anyone who’s been following his work will also recognize his ongoing preoccupation with ears, cats, zoos, and wells). But he gets a lot of mileage out of this instantly recognizable voice—the book ranges from fable-like stories at the far side of bizarre (“The Ice Man,” “A ‘Poor Aunt’ Story,” “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes”) to relatively straightforward realist fiction (the title story, “The Year of Spaghetti,” “Firefly”).

If you’ve read Murakami before and liked him, you definitely won’t want to pass this up. If you haven’t: time to jump on board—this is as good a place to start as any.

Also highly recommended (at least among the ones I’ve read so far):

A Wild Sheep Chase
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Norwegian Wood

Short stories
The Elephant Vanishes
After the Quake

(For the record, I found his most recent novel, Kafka on the Shore, a little disappointing—it was missing some essential quality of coherence that his other work seems to create effortlessly. But otherwise, I have yet to read anything of his I haven’t liked.)

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