I’ve been evading reading Murakami for a long time now. My bibliophile friends have tried their best to coax Murakami upon me with little success though. It is a popular opinion that his writing is simple yet complex and soulful. That wouldn’t have made sense if you aren’t a voracious reader.
What exactly quantifies as good writing? The grammar might be all correct and would please a grammar Nazi, but would that suffice as sole parameter to quantify a literary piece as well written? The very definition of good writing is an individual perception. While the whole world seemed to like Arvind Adiga’s – ‘The White Tiger’, but I found it rather mediocre. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, in spite of being immensely successful and selling tonnes of copies, has a lot haters. I wrote off Murakami’s work as one such case where the whole world went gaga and I simply didn’t like it. I had attempted to read his immensely popular work – Norwegian Wood ages ago. I had crossed just a couple of pages and I found his writing simply boring. I ditched the book and forgot all about it, until a conversation with a fellow bibliophile sparked my curiosity again. I scoured Google for his best works to start. I realized, there was no such thing as a best work. On an impulse, I decided to pick – Men Without Women. I’ve always loved reading short stories. I connect well with a small story with crisp characters and a compact story line. This book changed my perception of a typical short story.
The scope for elaborate characterization is practically limited when you wanted to write a 5000 word short story. The reader would end up feeling crammed and overloaded when the character is elaborate. Or so I thought would be the normal case, until I read this book.
This writer solved that problem with ease. He simply built the story around characterization and not the other way around as done typically. The central theme of the stories, as the title suggests, is about men without a women in their life. What happens when that feminine touch is lost? Does he become desolate? Is his balance thrown off? The writer brings out various possible line of thoughts when a man is left without a woman in his life. There are 7 stories, each depicting one line of thought. The characters, all of them, were just regular people, whose vulnerabilities were crux of each story’s plot.
Picking a favorite is next to impossible, but one story that stood out was “Samsa in Love”. The story is set in Prague, Gregor Samsa wakes up with no recollection whatsoever of his life or life in general. A girl who repairs locks visits him, upon the request of his parents who aren’t found in the house that Samsa lives. The setting is mildly dystopian, though the protagonist doesn’t realize this. The story was so unsettling that it rattled me thoroughly. Most of the stories were like that – the kind which would pique your curiosity and you would end up devouring it, but it would rattle you to no end when you are done.
What was more surprising was that this book is a translation from Japanese. I cannot phantom how powerful and emotional his original writing would have been.
I rarely highlight lines when I read. It annoys me to no end when you have to mark something on a beautiful paperback or for that matter color the screen of your kindle. It it were worth remembering, I would remember it. This book was the only exception. There were too many beautiful phrases which I was afraid of forgetting. I ended up highlighting a lot. Below are extracts from the book I loved.
“Just thinking about her made him warm inside. No longer did he wish to be a
fish or a sunflower—or anything else, for that matter. For sure, it was a great
inconvenience to have to walk on two legs and wear clothes and eat with a knife
and fork. There were so many things he didn’t know. Yet had he been a fish or a
sunflower, and not a human being, he might never have experienced this emotion.
So he felt.” – Samsa In love.
“And once you’ve become Men Without Women, loneliness seeps deep
down inside your body, like a red-wine stain on a pastel carpet. No matter how
many home ec books you study, getting rid of that stain isn’t easy. The stain might
fade a bit over time, but it will still remain, as a stain, until the day you draw your
final breath. It has the right to be a stain, the right to make the occasional, public,
stain-like pronouncement. And you are left to live the rest of your life with the
gradual spread of that color, with that ambiguous outline.” – Men Without Women
Is two days before tomorrow,
The day after two days ago.” – Yesterday
” If nothing else, you should feel grateful for
having been able to spend twenty years of your life with such a person. But the
proposition that we can look into another person’s heart with perfect clarity strikes
me as a fool’s game. I don’t care how well we think we should understand them, or
how much we love them. All it can do is cause us pain. Examining your own heart,
however, is another matter. I think it’s possible to see what’s in there if you work
hard enough at it. So in the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own
heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you
find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking
within ourselves ” – Drive My Car
You can read more about the book (and buy it too) from Goodreads