Wednesday 13 August 2008

The steady accumulation of small realities

I was surprised at how different South of the Border, West of the Sun turned out to be from the other Murakami novels I've read (Kafka on the Shore and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World).

The first Murakami novels I read were heavy on the fantastic and the surreal and contained several narratives connected only in the most tenuous and metaphysical of ways (although I found the connections in Hard-Boiled much clearer and more compelling than those in Kafka).

South of the Border, West of the Sun was a straightforward, almost linear, narrative (and the non-linear parts were clearly flagged flashbacks to a realistic past) told by one person. There were no sub-plots, immortal soldiers hiding in the forest, or underground caves full of mysterious monsters.

On the contrary, this novel realistically told the story of one middle aged man's mid-life questioning of the meaning of his successes - being married with two kids, having a thriving business, and being able to display his financial success outwardly via expensive cars and pricey brand name clothing. At the core of his questioning of all these accepted markers of success is his inability to let go of the memory of his childhood best fried/first love and then the revival of his obsession with her when she shows up at his bar one night.

I have to say, that I really, really enjoyed this book. I had no idea Murakami was capable of something so straightforward and, well, human. The narrator was a compelling blend of confused and immature, and wise and reflective, showing the latter sometimes by dropping gems like this (discussing relationships): "What we needed were not words and promises but the steady accumulation of small realities" (p. 33).

I loved the writing (as always - even when I don't know what Murakami is on about, I love his writing) and I thought Murakami really captured the bittersweet nostalgia involved in looking back at a childhood love as the one true example of a real relationship. I think this may have restored a little of my faith in Murakami; only time will tell, however, if some other author will have to take over a renamed Haruki Murakami Syndrome.

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