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Intriguing, but not really my cup of tea
on 12 January 2008
If I were asked to sum up this novel in three words, I would choose "Adolescent Oedipal Fantasy"
A fifteen year old boy, scared of a prophesy/curse placed on him by his father, runs away from home. An old man, mentally damaged in a mysterious childhood incident, seeks for lost cats and confronts their killer. An attractive middle aged woman pines for her lost young love. Over the course of this strange and intriguing novel, these three strands come together.
I chose this book from an "People who read this, also bought ..." list and at the time knew nothing about Murakami, his novels, or what appears to be an extremely dedicated fanbase. I therefore had no preconception of what I would be reading.
On the upside, the premise of the novel is intriguing, the way the different plotlines intertwine is interesting, the plot develops at a reasonable rate and the echoes between the different stories create a nice resonance.
On the downside, the book borders on magical realsim, which is definitely not my favourite literary style, there are just too many loose ends and too much left unexplained. Also I find the sexual politics slightly distasteful. One may say one of the themes is adolescent wish fulfilment, but the trap into which I think the book falls is rather than portraying adolescent male fantasies, it actually creates and panders to those fantasies. Furthermore the weakest section of the novel is the portrayal of radical feminism which is two dimensional and straight out of the (Tokyo) Daily Mail Big Book of Politically Correct Bogey-People.
Overall I get the feeling of an author trying too hard. I may be wrong, but I almost feel that this book is Murakami, having enjoyed past success, trying to write a "Murakami novel". Another way of saying the same thing is to say that the author teeters on a knife edge between profundity and the emporers new clothes.
I will try at least one other, earlier, Murakami novel, to see if there is a more authentic voice therein.
In summary, having read other reviews, Murakami seems to be an author one either loves or hates. So, if you have already formed your opinion, my views will have no impact on you. If you are coming to this fresh, as I did, my recommendation would be to go for it, it is definitely something different and intriguing. I also suspect that the younger (teens, 20s) reader may be more likely to love this book than one approaching or into middle age.