Friday, October 27, 2006

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

I never thought I would be saying this, but the last Murakami book I picked up, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, turned out to be a big disappointment. It includes short stories written over a fairly long period of time. Perhaps thats part of the problem, because the quality is extremely uneven. Hanelei Bay, I thought was a poignant story about a woman who loses her surfer son to the sea. In Murakami style, ofcourse, there has to be more to it than that, and so, it turns out this is a grieving mother, who nevertheless, didn't even particularly like her son.

"In all honesty, however, Sachi had never really liked her son. Ofcourse she loved him - he was the most important person in the world to her - but as an individual human being, she had trouble liking him, which was a realisation that it took her a very long time to reach."

This kind of 'twist' or complication to the story I can understand. Also good is Chance Traveller, a story of loss and meetings, where Murakami's classic 'almost supernatural' twists serve to push the story forward in terms of bringing back severed connections between a brother and a sister.

But stories like the Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes and Dabchick seem to sort of hover in the air. They seem almost too clever. I've read enough background information that the Sharpie Cakes story, where specially bred grotesque crows detect 'genuine' sharpie cakes, was meant to be a sort of allusion to the Japanese literary scene where the reigning literati proclaimed judgement on newer writers. But it just doesn't work as a story. It feels too preachy somehow, with there being too much of a moral feel to it. Dabchick again is surreal without leading anywhere. A man reports for a new job, where he is refused entry until he finds the password, which is, ofcourse dabchick, while we realise that the employer himself is the dabchick. (The dabchick is apparently a small European water bird though what that has to do with anything is unclear).

Despite being a raving Murakami fan, this book left me with the uneasy suspicion that in a lot of these stories, the devices are over-riding the stories themselves. Many of Murakami's novels are quite transparent, in the sense, that devices used to build interest, are visible. The parallel narration, for example, in Kafka on the shore. Or the stories within stories, letters, newspaper clippings, supernatural excursions etc in the Wind-up Bird Chronicle. But in this collection, many of the stories feel as though they've been taken over by these Murakami hallmarks, until the characters and their stories almost disappear, and there is nothing but something that feels like style, but is insubstantial.


itchingtowrite said...

i can think of a few women defining sachi's feeling

apu said...

Its more common than one would suppose, perhaps!