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Short story collection up to Murakami's usual standard
on 13 December 2007
This is Murakami's first proper short story collection in English since The Elephant Vanishes. After the Quake, though also a collection of short stories, is more of a coherent work, whereas these two collections draw from stories published from all periods of Murakami's career, and from many different collections in Japanese.
The publication dates of the stories are not given and, as Murakami says in his introduction (a nice touch), many of the stories have been significantly revised since their first publication. Thus, there is little coherence and tracing the author's development of style and themes is almost impossible, even with the aid of the bibliography in translator Jay Rubin's very interesting biography/literary study (also published by Vintage).
Murakami's short stories are very good, sometimes excellent, but it is in the sustained brilliance of his novels where his true value as a writer lies. The stories in here are, on the whole, up to Murakami's usual standard.
As in his novels, truly bizarre and unexplainable occurs in these stories. The most bizarre here is a talking monkey hiding in the sewers of a Tokyo suburb, but this is only one example. The more I read Murakami, the more I think this mystical, seemingly meaningful, content actually means nothing at all. This only marginally lessens its interest and mystery, though. Maybe one day I'll change my mind and be able unlock these conundrums (`like Zen koans', as one of the characters in this collection notes).
Throughout Murakami's work, a regularly re-occurring theme is things going missing without any explanation. It's no different in these stories. Sometimes it's things (name tags), often men (stockbrokers), usually women (girlfriends). Like one of the stories in The Elephant Vanishes, some of the stories here are the seeds of the writer's novels, fragments of them in a slightly different form.
Masters of the short story like Dahl, Fitzgerald and Hemmingway warrant a 5 for some of their collections, but there just isn't enough depth in these stories to warrant that kind of credit. They are like beautiful little sketches whose greatest power is to evoke a mood - nearly always one of wistful sadness - extremely powerfully. Don't expect them to mean anything, though, because they probably don't.