21 July 2011

Haruki Murakami, after the quake, 2000

For some enigmatic reason Murakami wanted this collection’s English title to be devoid of capital letters and all in lower case. The six stories are all set in February 1995, a month after the devastation of the Kobe earthquake (and a month before the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that Murakami explored in Underground), and while the characters he writes about were not directly affected by the earthquake it nevertheless created some other far-reaching and more personal seismic shifts. This is Murakami’s focus here, and only the story ‘Super-Frog Saves Tokyo’ has his trademark use of surreal imagery, the rest are very down-to-earth stories and all are told in the third person – again, a departure from previous style. Murakami has a deft way with characterisation and these stories all get their point across with an easy-going precision. ‘Landscape with Flatiron’ cleverly parallels a famous Jack London short story, but for me the best of all is the story ‘Thailand’, about a bitter Japanese woman on holiday there who, with her ex-husband in Kobe, is shown an unusual way to let go of her heart of stone. There are undercurrents of violence present in this collection, much like the seismic dangers that are always present but held at bay in the ground beneath our feet.  PY


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