Just before reading this book, I finished Women Without Men by Shahrnush Parsipur. Given the title, this felt like the natural next choice. It obviously is a very different book, but interestingly there seems to be some vague resemblance in the eerie dreamy atmosphere.
I think I got this book during the brief period before book swapping was banned in my block of flats. Apparently leaving a few books in the building’s lobby is a hazard. I asked and tried to fight it but there’s no reasoning with health and safety regulations in the UK. It is a hardback edition, so I know I didn’t buy it because I generally avoid hardbacks. Somehow they don’t sit right in my hand.
It is a collection of seven short stories, so once again not my favorite thing. But Murakami manages to pull it off, maybe because he gives each story space to breathe and develop and they all come to a natural conclusion. The form just sits right here.
As you can expect from the title all the stories explore life from the perspective of men. They are not necessarily all without women, but even if there are women in their lives there is a strong sense of disconnect. Many of the stories are also filled with a sense of loneliness and quiet longing for a connection. Often the characters don’t even realize what they are lacking but the emptiness is almost physical.
We have here a varied cast of characters. There’s an older actor, a widower, developing a strange relationship with his new withdrawn chauffeuse. Another story is about a man whose friend pushes his girlfriend into his arms, in some act of self-destruction. A life-long women lover, who suddenly falls in love and it destroys him. A man locked, for unknown reasons, at home, whose only contact with the outside world is a nurse that visits him a few items a week. We meet a quiet bartender whose marriage was shattered and he’s left trying to pick up the pieces. And a man getting a call from a husband of his one-time lover telling him that she killed herself.
All those stories are filled with an eerie sense of calm, but also despair or loneliness. There is no dramatic gestures, but there is a lot of anguish.
There is one story I didn’t mention yet because it stands out from the others so much. Samsa in Love, is an artful play on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. But this time the situation is reversed, it looks like an insect has awakened as Gregor Samsa. It is funny, weird, and tender.
It was an interesting read. Murakami has a gift for capturing the nuanced emotional states of his characters in a succinct way. Not a word seems out of place. But at the same time, it all felt very controlled, sometimes maybe too much.
This is the first book I read by Murakami and it got me interested. On the flip side, I do wonder if his meditative style will resonate with me in longer forms, as I sometimes become restless.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska