Men Without Women. Haruki Murakami.

Murakami, Haruki. Men Without Women. Bond Street (Penguin) Toronto. Original 2014, translation same year. F;5/17.

This collection of independent stories features the dark side of romantic relationships, but in usual Murakami fashion the narrator is kind of casual, uninvolved. Male characters are here often (same Murakami trademark) Nick Caraway-style emotionally aloof observers, but not always. I found the dramatic impact uneven, at best gripping, but in one of the stories so strangely inept that I ended up wondering what’s with this (one of my favourites) author.

More Murakami normal in this collection: a beautiful woman and a narrator interested but either not involved at all or keeping his distance. Sexual infidelity usually by a woman occurs in just about every one of these stories, and in An Independent Organ there is a suggestion of misogyny, consistent with the overall theme.

Kino was for me the most intense. A cuckold young married man becomes a loner and simple unpretentious bar-owner. Strange characters drift through the place, particularly a Bogart- or Kiefer Sutherland-like regular older guy who easily and probably physically handles a potentially violent situation. Then snakes start to appear around the building. The old regular gives mysterious spiritual advice and title-boy Kino takes it: leaves his livelihood behind to get away as advised, only to end up lost and frightened. The story was effective in its creepy symbolism of evil, but somehow behind that was an even creepier feeling of the futility of creativity in the face of said evil.  Author making a worrisome confession?

Strange therefore that the last and title story missed me by a mile. It seemed sententious, vain, repetitive, and jaggedly pointless in both content and style. I had to wonder whether Murakami was somehow trying to render a satire on silliness, but there wasn’t any hint that that was really going on, and certainly nothing like that would have been effective. I’ve never seen this author drop the ball quite so badly.

Mixed feelings. 7.2/8.6 on average.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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