Men Without Women
Reading this collection of short stories is like watching a movie through a smeared lens, or like trying to listen to a conversation on the other side of a double-glazed window but being able to catch only fragments because there’s a party going on in the room you are in. My initial reaction to these stories made me think of peering down a jar made of thick glass – it’s all a bit opaque. Yet these are far from wishy-washy stories – they are precise, well-paced and ingenious. The reader is held at the exact point that keeps one moving on with increasing curiosity through this collection. Men Without Women is a wonderful observation of loneliness, of choosing aloneness over the pain of closeness. The men in Murakami’s stories often remain elusive, sometimes somewhat bland or hidden, avoiding pain or the risk of pain or disappointment, they make sure their connections with women are tenuous or remote. Despite this, Murakami cleverly draws you in - you have an emotional investment in these men’s tales. Loneliness and avoidance, along with reinvention are themes that run through the stories. The conversations that reveal the men’s relationship dilemmas are played out to the reader through an oblique association or a retelling by a third person, so the reader becomes an observer, a listener, nodding or shaking his/her head in agreement or surprise and always reading on, hankering for a bit more information. The reader is curious, and it is that same sense of curiosity that drives the actions of some of these men also. In the opening story, 'Drive My Car', Kafuku, a theatre actor, must find himself a chauffeur. His mechanic advises him to seek out a taciturn young woman, Misaki, who, it turns out, has the knack of listening well and asking the 'cut to the chase' questions that disarm Kafuku. He finds himself revealing his friendship with his (now deceased) wife's lover. His wife, he reveals, had often taken lovers and, out of curiosity, he strikes up a friendship with last of these after her death. During her lifetime, he had never queried her infidelities, preferring to imagine them not so, to accept her need for others, but as a widower he becomes curious and feels compelled to seek answers, answers that will reveal more about himself than about his wife’s behaviour. In 'Yesterday', a young man is avoiding everything like nothing else: avoiding his feelings, changing his history (he takes on a different dialect just to be different from everyone else), purposely failing his entrance exam, suggesting that his girlfriend date his most recent friend, our narrator of this tale. He’s avoiding what he sees as his pre-ordained life or a relationship that to anyone else makes perfect sense. His story is told through his new friend – a friendship that turns out to be fleeting in many ways, a vehicle only for an escape from connecting in any meaningful way with a young woman he has known most of his life. These tragi-comic stories have all the hallmarks of Murakami’s writing: fascinating observations, clever reflections that reference popular culture, a sense of the unusual in the usual humdrum of everyday existence, and characters that in isolation seem insignificant yet you can’t quite keep the whole cast from sneaking into your subconscious, and Dr.Tokai’s plea to another, “Who in the world am I?” in the haunting story 'An Independent Organ' from resonating well after you have shut the book.
"I find writing novels a challenge, writing stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden." Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all. Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.
"Supremely enjoyable, philosophical and pitch-perfect new collection of short stories... Murakami has a marvellous understanding of youth and age - and the failings of each" -- Kate Kellaway Observer "Murakami writes of complex things with his usual beguiling simplicity... Strangely invigorating to read... It is Murakami at his whimsical, romantic best" -- Arifa Akbar Financial Times "Calculatedly provocative..., the stories offer sweet-sour meditations on human solitude and a yearning to connect... Murakami, always inventive, is one of the finest popular writers at work today" -- Ian Thomson Evening Standard "Written with all the cats, spaghetti, humor, and gentle surrealism we might expect ... Men Without Women is a funny, lovely, unmistakably Murakami collection of seven stories about the lives of people trying to find their place in the world and reckoning with their pasts" Buzzfeed "Elegant... Vintage Murakami... A glimpse into the strange worlds people invent by the always inventive Murakami" Kirkus "Self-schooled and uncontaminated by writerly edicts, the 68-year-old presents subjects directly on a platter before the reader... but stirs up all kinds of themes and truths in the allegorical mud through his gentle, almost conversational style" -- Hilary A White Irish Independent "One of the finest pieces of short-form writing I have enjoyed in many years... If the familiar way of Haruki Murakami are an enthusiasm, there is plenty here to divert the aficionado, but he also takes a turn into riskier territory that could well coax new readers into his distinctive world" -- Keith Bruce Herald "A man who starves to death for love, a woman who claims she used to be a lamprey eel, a mysterious whiskey drinker who scares away gangsters - it is the secondary characters who truly come alive in these tales. Peppered with strange women and passive men, unexpected suicides and cats, these vignettes will leave readers questioning, and linger in the mind" -- India Stoughton
Haruki Murakami is the author of many novels as well as short stories and non-fiction. His books include Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and The Strange Library. His work has been translated into more than 50 languages, and the most recent of his many international honours is the Jerusalem Prize.