The Murakami Project: Liz Reviews ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’

The Murakami Project: Each week leading up to October 25th, the on-sale date of Haruki Murakami’s long-awaited 1Q84 in its English translation, a different BookPerson will review one of Murakami’s previous titles. Folks who haven’t read Murakami yet can familiarize themselves with what the book world will be buzzing about come October (and maybe discover a new favorite book), and established fans can remember why they fell in love with him in the first place.

Week 7.

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Book: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Reviewed by: Liz

“The ‘I’ here, you should know, means me, Haruki Murakami, the author of the story. … The reason I’ve turned up here is I thought it best to relate directly several so-called strange events that have happened to me. Actually, events of this kind happen quite often.”

So begins “Chance Traveler,” the twentieth of twenty-four stories in Murakami’s delightful mishmash of a story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. It’s always a bit jarring to encounter an author as narrator in a short story, but these sentences contain so much of what I love about Murakami: his exploration of the strange, his experimentation with storytelling, and his blurring of the line between fiction and nonfiction.

Some of the weirdnesses in this collection are realistic—events we can imagine happening in our own lives, like when a character in “Chance Traveler” meets a woman who has a mole in the same place as his sister. And some stories reside clearly in the realm of the fantastic, like “Dabchick,” which features a palm-sized bird wearing glasses and contemplating his own death. But the majority of events in these stories straddle the line between fantasy and realism. They are coincidences. Hallucinations. Wishes and dreams. That uncanny feeling that you’ve been in a place before, even when you know you haven’t. These are the sort of so-called strange events, as Murakami notes, that happen quite often.

If there’s anything that sets this collection apart from Murakami’s other works, it’s the imaginative way he plays with narration. Most stories are separated into sections using a little symbol: a dot surrounded by two circles. It looks a bit like the ripple effect produced when a water droplet falls into a pond. Stories within stories. Multiple levels of stories. Multiple perspectives within stories. Murakami himself, showing up in his stories. This collection’s got it all. And it asks us to consider: Why do we tell stories? What does it mean to share our stories with others? How can a story about my life affect your life, and vice versa?

For new readers of Murakami, I think this collection is a nice mixed bag. Half—that’s twelve!—of these stories were originally published in The New Yorker. But others first appeared in McSweeney’s, Granta, Harper’s, Storie Magazine, and The Yale Review. “Firefly” turns out to be an excerpt that originally appeared in Norwegian Wood and a slightly altered version of “Man-Eating Cats” can be found in Sputnik Sweetheart. For me, rereading this Murakami-sampler has been the perfect lead-up to 1Q84. And I think I can speak for all of us here at BookPeople when I say I can’t wait for the newest batch of strangeness to begin.

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