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the complete review - fiction
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
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- Translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
- Written between 1980 and 2005
- Numerous stories have been previously published in a wide variety of periodicals
- With an Introduction to the English Edition by the author
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B+ : easily enjoyable
See our review for fuller assessment.
Generally favourable, lots of fuss about the oddness of his stories
From the Reviews:
- "As in his novels, Murakami's central fascination is with the essential strangeness and unfathomability of life. (...) In story after story, seemingly ordinary people relay instantly engrossing histories -- often through a writer named Murakami -- that turn on coincidence or surreal elements and blur the line between dreams and reality." - Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor
- "Murakami is at his best telling shaggy-dog stories in which inexplicable events help the characters to understand truths that they've hidden from themselves, and in the five 'strange tales from Tokyo' he does just that. Packed with talking monkeys and violent karate champions, they're funny but also sad and wise. While a lot of the book is interesting, these are the ones that his fans will be most pleased to see as they wait for the next novel." - Christopher Tayler, Daily Telegraph
- "In Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, the 25 stories juxtapose the deeply bizarre with the mundane to evoke fleeting moods of sadness, hope, nostalgia, and dread." - Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly
- "In many of these stories, narrative tension is prolonged by a refusal to explain (.....) The stories in this collection have all of Murakami's characteristic strangeness, but they combine the strangeness with structure. They show him at his very best; not as a cult novelist but as a really first-rate writer of short fiction. (...) The lasting effect is not that of a Japanese writer trying to write about the west, but of a writer whose relationship with his own culture is as complex, strange and powerful as the stories he creates." - Tobias Hill, The Guardian
- "By far the best stories are those that Murakami wrote for The New Yorker. (...) These stories are rich in Murakami magic, and elevate Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman from being a fan-only purchase to a collection that all readers will enjoy." - Matt Thorne, The Independent
- "If Murakami's novels are grand enigmas, his stories are bite-sized conundrums. (...) The great pleasure of the new story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, is watching Murakami come at his obsessions from so many different angles. There's a panoply of strangeness between these covers (.....) This collection shows Murakami at his dynamic, organic best. As a chronicler of contemporary alienation, a writer for the Radiohead age, he shows how taut and thin our routines have become, how ill-equipped we are to contend with the forces that threaten to disrupt us." - Antoine Wilson, The Los Angeles Times
- "Whatever the sources of their inspiration, the stories in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman are nothing like a serious critical evaluation of a national identity. These stories are a succession of disparate and abstracted discontents that do not add up to a political position. A protest against the universe is a pre-political protest, crippled by its own generality, best carried out by teenagers and lunatics. What redeems Murakami's writing from its puerility is its aestheticism: its haunting imagery, its credible voices, its allegorical play, its skill for surprise." - Chloë Schama, The New Republic
- "It is quite impressive, though, to see Murakami take something not remotely odd or unexplained and absorb it into his idiom of unexplained oddness. Powerful imaginative writers can put their stamp on anything that way." - Hugo Barnacle, New Statesman
- "Gentle and enchanted, the 24 stories of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Japanese writer Haruki Murakamiís latest collection, are frequently brief, unassuming and understated -- but never flat or vacant. Mr. Murakami presents new variations on familiar preoccupations" - Mythili Rao, The New York Observer
- "To be sure, Murakami often proves himself to be a writer of genuine and vigorous talent. At his best he tells tales that lodge in the brain like hot shrapnel -- like the title story or the piece called "Hunting Knife," (...). But there are also moments when his brand of magic realism allows him a degree of license that does not always work to his benefit -- particularly when it comes to the writing itself." - Christian Caryl, The New York Review of Books
- "An author should be slier. Therefore this must not be an author talking. It must be a reader who overwrites. Mr Murakami sells his credibility down the river, thereby earning the reader's trust. (...) (T)he final suite of new stories is better than Mr. Murakami's recent novel, Kafka on the Shore." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun
- "Thatís about as well defined as things get in MurakamiLand, where sudden dislocations of time and space are pretty much the norm, and a certain, letís say, ontological indeterminacy hangs like a low cloud over everything lived or imagined or dreamed or remembered." - Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review
- "Weirdness fills these engrossing stories from throughout Murakami's career. (...) Murakami has perfected a note of elegiac horror, but even his ickiest plot devices are steeped in a quizzical anxiety. (...) Although Murakami's style and deadpan humour are wonderfully distinctive, his emotional territory is more familiar -- remorse, unresolved confusion, sudden epiphanies -- though heightened by the surreal." - David Jays, The Observer
- "Awarning to new readers of Haruki Murakami: You will become addicted. Fans of the Japanese star are impassioned and relentless, and in this new collection Murakami deals the same divine drug. (...) Inconclusive, bewildering and totally engaging, the whodunit survives in Murakami's work as a tired framework to be purged of its contents and refilled with ironic, metaphysical, quixotic mysteries: hard-boiled narratives for the postmodern set." - Jenna Krajeski, San Francisco Chronicle
- "There is a whole lot more where this came from: a series of stories which, without ever quite duplicating their procedural patterns, end up reaching entirely different destinies from the paths first suggested, coming to rest at some mystifyingly oblique angle to what the reader imagined to be their authenticating theme." - D.J.Taylor, The Spectator
- "Murakami's short stories often read like fables, yet with morals drenched in ambiguity. (...) Along with ghouls and monsters, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman contains several simple(ish) stories of love and heartbreak. These are generally the more successful. Murakami is excellent at creating an intense mood in a swift few lines, but when he is at his most peculiar, it is perhaps better for him to have space to sprawl." - Toby Lichtig, Sunday Telegraph
- "Haruki Murakamiís fictional world is extraordinary, but within the indisputable and beguiling weirdness that lurks below the casual-seeming surface, there is often a core that is disappointingly commonplace or even banal. (...) Too many stories use loneliness as a predictable plot device rather than a discovery about feeling. Characters have off-the-peg existential crises, resulting in sweating and vomiting for men, and silent tears and shoulder-shaking sobs for women." - Tom Deveson, The Sunday Times
- "Murakamiís gardens are very strange." - Ruth Scurr, The Times
- "Murakami, however, is not precious about matters of narrative or style.
He wants to get the essence of his stories in transit across linguistic borders as quickly and smoothly as possible.
By and large, he has succeeded, aided in this book by his regular translators, Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin. (...) Nevertheless, there are problems with the lack of selection and haphazard ordering of the stories in this collection. Although Murakami provides a short introduction, we are not given publication dates for the stories. The lack of information does not affect enjoyment or readability, but it does alter our ability to follow its author's philosophical development unless we are already familiar with it. (...) Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman will delight readers who think of Haruki Murakami as a provider of the bizarre but, underneath the seemingly random obsessions with cats, doors to nowhere and disappearing people, this collection says more about his own career and changing attitudes to life than perhaps he would admit." - Jonathan Ellis, Times Literary Supplement
- "Blinde Weide, schlafende Frau ist die bislang umfangreichste Sammlung von Erzšhlungen Murakamis. Und es ist die beste, die vielschichtigste, die faszinierendste." - Ulrich Baron, Die Welt
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman collects two dozen of Murakami's stories, from some of his earliest to very recent ones.
In his introduction to this edition Murakami writes that he alternates between writing novels and short stories:
The two types of writing may very well engage different parts of the brain, and it takes some time to get off one track and switch onto another.
It doesn't sound very convincing, especially in light of the fact that, as he acknowledges, he's: "rewritten short stories and incorporated them into novels" (there are several examples in this collection).
But even without such actual cross-use examples, the feel of his stories is much like that of his novels -- and his novels often include such almost self-contained stories.
He has a distinctive approach, and there are very few stories here which aren't almost instantly recognisable as his -- even to those only familiar with his novels.
Murakami is very interested in story-telling: frequently he has one of his characters recount or remember an episode, nestling that central story within a somewhat larger piece.
Setting the scene often seems equally (or even more) important, as Murkami begins in one place, only to wind up somewhere very different.
One of his favourite (and most successful) tricks is a particular shift of emphasis, found in many of the stories, where instead of culminating in some obvious conclusion (as many writers would do it) the incidental is given equal weight.
It's not the punchline that's of interest to him, but the joke (or story) leading up to it -- as evidenced by the frequency with which he has characters forget such things:
"Have you seen the movie where Warren Beatty plays the piano in a nightclub ?"
It's all about a feel and ambience; details often don't matter.
Even when he inverts the pattern, the result is much the same:
"No, I haven't."
"Elizabeth Taylor is one of the customers at the club, and she's really poor and miserable"
"So Warren Beatty asks Elizabeth Taylor if she has any requests."
"And does she ?"
"I forget. It's an old movie."
"I wish I could remember the plot, but I can't.
All I can remember is that strange last line.
'And when it was all over, the king and his retainers burst out laughing.'
What kind of a story could it have been ?"
There is a strong sense of isolation in many of Murakami's stories, his characters at a disconnect from at least part of society (even those who are outwardly entirely functioning members of it).
There are a few happy couples, but Murakami focusses very much on individuals -- and it's not unusual that:
He found it natural to be by himself: it was kind of a premise for living.
Murakami is also fairly inventive in some of the situations his characters find themselves in.
Only a few of the stories have truly fantastical premises (talking animals, etc.), but there's frequently an element of the unnatural and extra-ordinary -- but Murakami has a way of making these things seem almost entirely ordinary.
What interests him is not how incredible a specific idea is (a man who disappears between floors on the stairwell of his apartment building), but how almost banal it is.
One of his characters thinks:
maybe chance is a pretty common thing after all.
Those kind of coincidences are happening all around us, all the time, but most of them don't catch our attention and we just let them go by.
Murakami's stories often use precisely those coincidental moments: he doesn't let them go by, and he shows how his characters' lives can be changed by what might otherwise seem to be insignificant happenstance.
And it is the way he does it, a deft, soft touch, that makes his stories appealing (but can probably also be annoying to some).
The quirky invention, the sympathetic narrators (most of the stories are told in the first person, though it is not always the narrator's own story that is central), and the general ambience of the pieces -- laid back, jazz-loving, barely a hint of the rat-race -- make Murakami's stories easily digestible and generally very enjoyable.
Yet they also feel almost too insubstantial -- there's no single 'great' story here, for example.
What's memorable -- but also hard to pin down precisely-- is the feel of the pieces, the way he (and his story-tellers) go about telling these stories.
Murakami is very good at what he does, but it doesn't always feel like quite enough (but that's presumably also his intention -- he's an open-ended kind of guy).
He has a specific idea of what a story should be: as one his characters says:
Get the tone right and you have a true story on your hands.
Maybe some of the facts aren't quite correct, but that doesn't matter -- it actually might elevate the truth factor of the story.
Turn this around, and you could say there're stories that are factually accurate yet aren't true at all.
Murakami is all about tone, and playful with the facts (and invention).
It works, for the most part (a rare exception is the disappointing last story, 'A Shinagawa Monkey', which reads like a lazy first draft where none of the (many) kinks of a story with an appealing foundation have been worked out yet).
It doesn't make for conventional 'truth' or necessarily resemble 'reality', but almost all of it does ring true, real in the way so much of everyday experience and life feels unreal..
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a consistently enjoyable collection.
Typical Murakami, and certainly worthwhile.
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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman:
Other books by Murakami Haruki under review:
Books about Murakami Haruki under review:
Other books of interest under review:
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About the Author:
Japanese author Murakami Haruki (村上春樹) was born January 12, 1949.
He attended Waseda University.
He has written several internationally acclaimed bestsellers and is among the best-known contemporary Japanese writers.
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