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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" by Haruki Murakami

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (trans by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, 2006, 362 pages)

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a collection of short stories that were originally published from 1981 to 2005.     A number of the stories were first published in translation in the New Yorker magazine.   I am not normally drawn to collections of short stories.    I was asking myself why.   I think the basic answer for me and a lot of others is that I like to be drawn into another world when I read and the vehicle of the short story is not, for me, conducive to this most of the time.   When I do read a good short story I enjoy it and I tell myself I should read more.    With this in mind I recently acquired Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, a collection of short stories in a book trade.   None of the stories in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman are over 25 pages long and some are much shorter.    In my readings of Japanese literature I have not begun really to read much of Murakami's work.    He is  widely considered a writer of great quality as well as an entertainer of the highest order and were it not for the fact that two Japanese authors have won since WWII many think he would be in line for a Nobel Prize.    Basically you cannot say that you have begun to know the post war Japanese novel until you have read most of his work.  

I read half the stories in this collection and will read the rest one a time as the year goes on.   Each of the stories is unique and are set in modern Japan or at least begin there.   Murakami does a good job in bringing to life the characters in the stories in the short space he has to do it.

 A very typical story and one I liked a lot was "Man Eating Cats" (19 pages).    It centers on a man and woman, college educated young corporate employee sorts, both married who begin an adulterous affair with each other.    Their passion for each other does not seem deep and the affair seems motivated almost  out of boredom.    In time through unlucky accidents each of the spouses finds out about the affair and their marriages and lives are ruined.    The couple decide if they pool their money they can live for about three years without income.   After some research they decide the best place for them to move to (they want to escape their shame) is to a small Greek island, off the tourist track.    While there the male partner reads an article in an Athens newspaper about a 70 year old woman who lived with a number of cats.    The woman dies alone in her apartment and her body is not found for weeks.   In the mean time her starving cats had begun to eat her body.    The man comes to see this as metaphor for his life.   He feels his life has been thrown away for nothing, any future to live a good life beyond mere subsistence was destroyed by his adultery, done just because he could do it.   Here is the ending of the story:

I returned to the apartment and downed a glass of brandy.  I tried to go to sleep but I could not.  Until the eastern sky grew light, I was held in the grip of the moon.   Then suddenly I pictured those cats, starving to death in a locked apartment.   I, the real me, was dead, and they were alive, eating my flesh, biting into my heart, sucking my blood.   Far away,  I could hear them lapping at my brains.   Like Macbeth's witches, the three little cats surrounded by broken head, slurping up the thick soup inside.    The rough tips of their tongues licked the soft folds of my mind.   And with each lick, my consciousness flickered like a flame and faded away.
In most of the stories we are introduced to ordinary people.    We get to know them a bit then we  begin to see their lives are not so ordinary.    Seemingly small decisions change  the courses of the characters lives in ways they cannot quite fathom.    The introduction of the element of "magic realism" found in Murakami's longer works is found here in several of the stories.    It might be seen as the attempt of people to make sense of their lives by creating their own myths and  using personal magic to explain to themselves elements of their lives that make sense no  any  other way.

The stories I read in the collection were all well done, all entertaining and all made me think.    I hope to read Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore, and  The Wild Bird Chronicles soon.

I am reading this book for the POC challenge (now completed with 15 books-I will continue to read for it)
I am also reading this in conjunction with Murakami Month on In the Spring it is The Dawn

I would appreciate any and all suggestions as to my next Murakami read.   I have already read Dance, Dance, Dance and After Dark


Suko said...

Mel, great review--I may need to get this collection of Murakami's short fiction. Interestingly, I just posted about a short story challenge. :)

Anonymous said...

Fantastic review. I like short stories and will need to look into reading this one.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I have not read this one yet, but am really anxious after your great review. I liked After Dark.

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

I'm not a big fan of short stories so I didn't read this entire collection. I remember enjoying the first story though...I don't remember the title. Did you read that one. Murakami is a a brilliant writer. I've read several of his books but my favourite is the first one I read from him, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Strange but excellent!

Bethany said...

I love short stories! I'm reading two short story collections and I'm keen to read more so I'll have to add this to my list!

I love Murakami, and have read After Dark and Sputnik Sweetheart. I also have Norwegian Wood on my shelf to read!

ds said...

It is a great collection, isn't it? Hope you enjoy the rest of the tales as much as this one.

JoV said...

Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart is definitely what I wanted to read next. Norwegian Wood seems to be his most famous.

I have read:
Hard boiled wonderland and End of the world
Wild sheep chase
Kafka on the Shore
Wind-up bird Chronicles

Of which Hard boiled and wild sheep chase in my opinion are the better ones.

Happy Reading Murakami!

Mark David said...

This is perhaps my favorite collection of Murakami stories, but like you I've only
read half of it so far. Not that I was bored with it, but it's just that I'm prioritizing other books first. And I also really like the story Man Eating Cats. I thought it's quite evocative and inventive. But my most favorite is the title story :)

By the way, Mel, it's just now that I noticed you changed your layout. I really like it, it's rather pretty and easy on the eyes. Do forgive me for not having dropped by as often as I should. But I'm happy you're still doing great reviewing all these books :)

Unknown said...

I'm a fan of Murakami, but don't normally enjoy short stories, so haven't attempted this one.

I think Kafka on the Shore is the best Murakami I've read. Wild Sheep Chase is also very good.

Wind up Bird Chronicle is very long. It has an amazing first half, but I found it loses the quality towards the end.

I don't enjoy his more straight works as much - the bizarreness of his writing is what makes him special. I hope you enjoy your next Murakami.

Rebecca Reid said...

I'm very interested in Murakami. Haven't read any yet, but I may soon!

claire said...

I've only read one Murakami, which is Kafka on the Shore, which was interesting and I really liked it. Will be reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle soon, and will follow it up with Norwegian Wood (but maybe not so soon).

Anonymous said...

I dare not read your post yet because I also started in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman last month! Though due to a SLOW pace I didn't finish it in time to review it for Hello Japan! Did something else though ;)

As soon as I've finished 'Blind Willow' I'll get back to you! Currently reading The Ice Man...