Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Haruki Murakami, Author, Philip Gabriel, Translator, Jay Rubin, Translator. Knopf $25 (p) ISBN. A warning to new readers of Haruki Murakami: You will become addicted. His newest collection is as enigmatic and sublime as ever. San Francisco Chronicle. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Vintage International) [Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers.
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It takes a certain amount of guts to write a whole story about vomiting. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is the author’s third collection of short stories to be published in English, and the vomiting story – “Nausea ” – is trademark Murakami: The narrator is typical too: The protagonist is a fellow jazz buff who also has a second passion – sleeping with his friends’ wives.
His vomiting lasts 40 days and 40 nights, is accompanied by frightening prank calls, and ends as mysteriously as it began – as does the story itself. The two friends can find no explanation for the curse, and the prank caller remains unidentified.
It might sound a disappointing narrative – and Murakami can seem disappointing at first – but “Nausea ” is a story that sticks in the mind, and in this, too, it is characteristic. In many of these stories, narrative tension is prolonged by a refusal to explain; Murakami’s ghost stories and murder mysteries remain ghostly and mysterious.
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman | Haruki Murakami
Has the serial adulterer been cursed, or does his nausea have nothing at all to do with his predilection for deceptive seduction? Murakami never says, and the result, as in so much of his work, is profoundly memorable.
As an independent publisher, Harvill published Murakami beautifully for mhrakami years, and, happily, as Harvill Secker it is continuing the tradition; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a handsome volume of prose, every bit as substantial as a novel, bringing together 25 stories written over three decades and augmenting them with an introduction from the author.
In this Murakami mentions the fact that although he sees himself s,eeping a novelist, many of his readers prefer his short stories. The preference is understandable. Murakami’s novels are meandering things, full of delights, but often hsruki in their combination of brilliance and laxity, and with a surrealism that can become tiresome over the long haul.
His short stories contain the same abundance of brilliance, but also have a balance and poise that allow his writing to shine. The stories in this collection have all of Murakami’s characteristic willlow, but they combine the strangeness with structure. They show him at his very best; not as a cult novelist but as a really first-rate writer of short fiction. The works in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman are not arranged chronologically, but the progression of Murakami’s style is clear and interesting.
The earliest stories are so surreal as slseping be almost impossible to summarise: Realising his error, he wishes he had written a story about anything else – umbrella stands, for example: Maybe then people would have let me into their cliques.
I could’ve painted the umbrella stand a new colour twice a month and gone with it to all the parties.
Your umbrella stand is pink this week! In the more recent stories there is less sheer joy in language, fewer pyrotechnics, but there is more patience with characters and narrative, and many of the most powerful stories in the collection are new. The most vivid pieces in the book are also often the simplest.
A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism” tells the story of a furniture-seller’s lifelong love for his high school sweetheart, and is outstanding despite or perhaps because of the absence of umbrella stands and cursed aunts.
A hole in the middle of the Pacific
The collection closes with five pieces published together in Japanese as Strange Tales from Tokyo, and these, too, are marvellous, their surrealism leavened with and strengthened by the author’s growing skill and patience.
Murakami’s critics become crows who have pecked out one another’s eyes. Murakami has spoken about the criticism he has received within Japan, his own explanation for it being that the literary establishment there disapproves of his use of popular culture; but this feels like an incomplete explanation, since this isn’t exactly what his work reflects.
Much more striking in these stories, as in his novels, is the absence of Japanese culture – modern or otherwise – and the overwhelming presence of western cultural icons.
Murakami’s characters do not watch Kurosawa or follow the sumo. They go to Starbucks and watch Hitchcock. They also love Balzac, Bach and West Coast jazz, and they do not do so in isolation. If the protagonists in this collection were all assembled, they would discover a series of typically Murakami-like freakish coincidences about themselves; not only does one of them like Balzac, but they all do; they all prefer spaghetti to sushi; they all find solace in Debussy, Dickens and Descartes.
The more one reads of Murakami, the odder this becomes. Initially it can seem like a simple bad case of name-dropping, but there is an obsessiveness about it which has its own energy. Like Don DeLillo, Murakami is a writer whose characters often act out of character, functioning as voicepieces for the author’s own passions; but unlike DeLillo, whose passions are homegrown, Murakami is forever looking elsewhere.
He writes around his country as if he means to cut a hole the size of Japan in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The lasting effect is not that of a Japanese writer trying to write about the west, but of a writer whose relationship with his own culture is as complex, strange and powerful as the stories he creates.