Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Dance, Dance, Dance" by Haruki Murakami

Dance, Dance, Dance (1995, 392 pages,  trans. from Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum) is my second read of a Haruki Murakami novel.   Murakami's After Dark was the first novel by a Japanese author I had ever read.   I picked it for two simple reasons.   Murakami was the only Japanese author I was familiar with (the book stores in Manila are very stocked in his works) and it was a short book.  I prefer to read a short book by a new author.   I liked After Dark a lot and thought it gave us a good look at part of the Tokyo night world.   Having read around 40 Japanese works since my August 9, 2009 review of After Dark I would suggest it as a good first Japanese novel.   It is often endorsed on the Murakami group as a suggested first read.  

  I set the book in my TBR area as I wanted to read a diverse range of Japanese authors before reading second works.   I finished Dance, Dance, Dance yesterday.    I found it to be a lot of fun.   It kept my attention throughout.   I felt I understood the central character, a male free lancer writer living in contemporary Tokyo who specializes in restaurant reviews.  

At the start of the book the narrator (it is told in the first person) is thinking about a former sort of girl friend.   She was, in the narrator's words, a high class hooker,  a professional ear model and a proofreader.   He recalls the old hotel where they used to spend time together,  The Dolphin Hotel.   The Dolphin Hotel is a sort  of run down place with a lot of  "character", the kind of a place where nobody there is not quite who they say they are.   (The kind of setting beloved to writers of  stories about the darker side of big cities).   The narrator has not seen his girl friend in a long time so he decides to go back to the Dolphin hotel to see if anyone there has any leads on her.  (He claims he was not her customer but this is an artistically, and otherwise, dubious assertion on the narrator's part.)   To his great shock the hotel has been torn down.   In its place there is an ultramodern tower called the L'Hotel Dauphin.   Nobody there, of course, has ever heard of his ex-girl friend, Kiki.   He is taken by the very attractive female desk clerk in a lovely uniform.  (At the Dolphin Hotel the owner was at the desk.)   He decides to embark on a search for Kiki.  His job gives him a lot of self directed time.   He is a cat lover.
I do not want to give away much of the plot line at all because it very much a fun exciting read.   We get to meet his boyhood friend now a movie star.   We see his developing friendship with a 13 year old girl.  (The narrator seems in his mid thirties).    At times the relationship does cause the narrator to wander into mental images he is not proud about but no lines are crossed in action.   We get to meet a mysterious Sheep Man who may be a dream figure or may be a real figure of some kind somehow controlling the events in the lives of the characters.

In talking about The Club Dumas a few days ago I characterized it, in a parody of the term "Chick Lit", as belonging to the category of  "bookish boys lit".   By this I mean a book that plays into the fantasies of bookish teenage boys (and the adult versions of that.)   Examples of quality writers who fall in this category are Pynchon, Hemingway, and Dumas.    To me Dance, Dance, Dance is squarely in this category.   (This is not a pejorative label-really it is not-Gravity's Rainbow is on my list of ten best novels ever and it is for sure in this genre.)   One of the characteristic of the genre is the exploration of hidden or darker sides of things, secret knowledge of worlds unknown to ordinary people.    Male characters in works in this genre have uneasy relationships with women.   There is a preoccupation, this is the books expression, with high class hookers.   The narrator of this book reads Jack London and listens all the time to American pop music.   Your bookish boy reads Call of The Wild and The Count of Monte Cristo.   The narrator of Dance, Dance, Dance best friend charges high class prostitutes to his expense account.   He was a customer of Kiki.   One night he and the narrator are bored so they order in two girls from a very expensive super discreet agency that the movie star is an important customer off.   The movie star pays for it all.    The narrator goes to Hawaii with the 13 year old girl he is friends with and somebody else pays the bill.   He stays a hotel in a room alone and the girl does stay else where.   A beautiful woman knocks on his door one night, she is described as "South Asian".  She is a high class prostitute that his movie star friend has hired for him.   Not just for one night but for three nights in a row.   The girl provides him with a great services, very erotically described.  

The action picks up.   A number people are killed including several of the prostitutes.   We meet some hard  boiled detectives, your standard seen it all homicide detectives who know enough not to question the owners of expensive call girl rings too much given the level of protection they have paid for.    We get to go along for some fancy meals, paid for by the movie star friend with a lot of  issues in his life, of course.   We get to know some call girls,  a one armed American Vietnam veteran, the 13 year old girl's mother
and a very respectable and nice girl who works at the fancy hotel.   She, of course, is quite beautiful and ends up in love with and in bed with the narrator. 
There are lots of clever plot lines and surprises.   The role of the Sheep Man is meant to baffle us, I think.   There are Science Fiction aspects to the book if the role of the Sheep Man is not seen as a dream or hallucinatory episode

  Dance, Dance, Dance was, to me, a fun read.   It is in the bookish boy genre and one should know that before reading it.    In my classification, a book can be a work of very high quality and be a bookish boy's novel.   Murakami has written a lot of novels.   People who have read them all pretty much put Dance Dance Dance in the middle rank of his books.   Most readers give it four or five stars and every one says it is not his best work.   I guess I would give it four at least.    I look forward to reading his most highly regarded works.  

I read in a few places on the net that Kenzaburo Oe has been very critical of Murakami.   I wanted to know why so I did a bit of research.   Basically Oe feels Murakami  gives too much emphasis to American culture in his works.
This, of course, is a political value judgment (Murakami for sure is the best know Japanese writer internationally) that has nothing to do with the merit of the work of Murakami.   Dance, Dance, Dance does have many references to American pop music, books and even food.   There is one small thing in the novel that did annoy me.   The narrator and the movie star are talking about the prostitute that the movie star sent to the hotel in Hawaii.   They call the agency and the agency asks where she is from.   They say "Oh she is probably from the Philippines".   

Mel u


Book Bird Dog said...

I like that last comment. Stereotyping, even though Murakami might not be in agreement with the narrator? Is the narrator supposed to reflect Murakami himself?

By the way, if you read Wild Sheep Chase, would love to know what you think about the sheep and what they represent, if anything.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Glad you enjoyed Dance, Dance, Dance.

I liked After Dark when I read it this year.

Suko said...

I definitely need to read a work by Murakami soon. Thanks for yet another in-depth review.

Mel u said...

Bird Dog Books-I should get to Wild Sheep Chase in 2010-maybe Murakami has a thing for sheep, as literary devices, as there are sheep references in Dance Dance Dance- there is no reason to Identify the narator of the novel with the author-I do not normally do that

Diane-Dance Dance Dance was more fun to me than After Dark

JoAnn said...

Now that I have read Banana Yoshimoto, Murakami will be next - starting with After Dark.

Mel u said...

Tony-no doubt you are probably right-as I mentioned I got this book in a book trade-some times it is not easy to get just the books you want in the stores in Manila-the book depository will not ship here and amazon charges too much-I am also nearly read out of my Japanese books so I needed to go ahead and read this out of sequence-I hope next year to read the other books in the trilogy and the Big name Murakami books also-

JoAnn-that is a good idea-

Michelle said...

This was the first Murakami book I read, and till now, it is still my favourite. =) Maybe it has something to do with it being my first Murakami?

But you have a lovely review of the book here. Glad to know that you enjoyed it.

I find it interesting how you mentioned 'bookish boys lit', and about how it is loosely defined as books that explore the darker side of things, and how the male character/s seem to have uneasy relationships with women. I think it can be quite true of Murakami's tendencies. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which I've just read and reviewed, have those characteristics as well.

Anyway, thanks for the review. I too, look forward to reading more of his work. =)

ds said...

"Bookish boys lit," eh? Interesting. This is another great, detailed review Mel. I enjoy Murakami's novels immensely, but haven't gotten to this one yet. Will make sure to do so (but it sounds as though Wild Sheep Chase should come first). Thank you!

Anonymous said...

When I first picked up Murakami it was his collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Being an American, I was used to beginning, middle and ending of a plot, which is not what one gets with Murakami. However, I next read After Dark, and as you said, it is the perfect place to start with him. I was hooked! I went on to read Kafka on The Shore, my personal favorite, and Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, then Underground, A Wild Sheep Chase and now Dance Dance Dance. I must say the last two were interesting, but not my top favorites. The role of the Sheep Man confuses me, as I suspect he may play some kind of deity in these books. I'm not sure what Murakami is giving him in terms of importance at directing/connecting others. I loved the relatonship between Yuki and our narrator in this book; that was my favorite part. Weren't the six skeletons weird? And, I wouldn't like a reference to a call girl from the Philippines either!

Anonymous said...

Yay! 40 Japanese books since your review of After Dark! How amazing :)

I understand what you're saying about bookish boys lit.

I liked both A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance -- probably more than After Dark because I got pulled in more. I read them in 2004, 2008 and 2009 and with all the reviews going around I feel like rereading! Alas, there's other stuff wanting my attention ;)