Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review of ‘Men Without Women’ by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami. Need I say more? Okay, I will. It’s no secret that I’m an avid reader of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. I have a bookshelf filled with his novels. I just finished reading his latest short story collection, Men Without Women (Knopf, May 2017), which was published in Japan in 2014 and now has been expertly translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen. I will proudly add it to my shelf.

The book includes seven short stories, all of them centered around the theme of men living without women. That isn’t to say there are no women involved. In fact, the opposite is true. The stories are really about men dealing with loneliness, even when there are women in their lives.

Murakami devotees will find many familiar themes in the stories. Male narrators, mysterious cats, tributes to the Beatles and Kafka. The opening story, “Drive My Car” features a successful actor who protests that women drivers make him nervous, but then spills the secrets of his wife’s recent death and affairs to his taciturn female chauffeur. She takes on the roll as his therapist as she drives him back and forth to the theater.

In the story "Scheherazade", previously published in The New Yorker in October 2014, Habara is cooped up inside an apartment, although we never know exactly why this is the case. He dubs the woman who cares for him with sex and groceries as Scheherazade. Like the storyteller by that name in "A Thousand and One Nights" she tells him a "strange and gripping story" after each encounter. Yet as in any Murakami tale, her stories leave us asking for more.

My least favorite story in the collection was "Samsa in Love" which opens with the sentence "He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa" – a nod to Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis, where the main character’s name was also Gregor Samsa. Luckily there are no giant insects in Murakami’s story, but still I found it surreal and creepy.

“It’s quite easy to become Men Without Women,” the narrator states in the book’s final story. “You love a woman deeply, and then she goes off somewhere. That’s all it takes.” The story emphasizes the use of plural – men without women. “Once you’ve become Men Without Women, loneliness seeps deep inside your body, like a red-wine stain on a pastel carpet.”

It’s a bit sad to be “a pastel-colored Persian carpet” with a “Bordeaux wine stain that won’t come out.” But that’s what it means to be Men Without Women, a story collection that will stay in your mind for some time.

What is it about Murakami that attracts me to his writing? In the past, I’ve listed the 7 Reasons Why I Read Haruki Murakami, so you can get a clue there. First time Murakami readers will enjoy these stories but they have a lot of catching up to do. They are invited to select their next read from the books on my Murakami shelf.

Buy Men Without Women and read it now!

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