Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Muddling Through Murakami

I just finished reading "South of the Border, West of the Sun", by Haruki Murakami. This short novel follows the angst-ridden Hajime, a hormone-addled Japanese teen turned jazz club owner, from his pre-pubescent crush on Shimamoto (a quiet new girl at school with a lame leg from polio) his first sexual experiences with Izumi (whom he destroys when she finds out about his torrid bouts with her cousin), boring college and first job years, through his marriage and kids with Yukiko and then into mid-life crisis with a reemergent and ravishing Shimamoto. I had heard wonderful things about this author from several respected customers and was eager to dive in.

Murakami's writing is rather staccato and the colloquialisms seemed a bit dated, so it took me awhile to get into the rhythm of the book. There are also lots of sexual scenes which are snoozingly mechanical, rather than erotic, so I was also put off by that. I kept waiting for the character of Hajime to develop, but he seemed stuck in a narcissistic, unsatisfied state throughout, so again, I was unhappy with his development.

Ultimately, the book left me wondering what had happened to some of the women in Hajime's orbit and with a feeling that the book wasn't quite finished. Even more unsettling, the book left me feeling like I hadn't understood broad swatches of the plot and the symbolism of various scenes, so I am not anxious to start another Murakami novel and somewhat dread my conversations with the customers who raved about this author. Heck, I don't even get the cover art. For the last several days I have thought about why the book would be so highly prized by others, while I am still chewing on this underdone bit of literature. I suppose that one man's meat is another man's biblio-gristle.

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