A short story collection doesn’t have to be hit after hit. To be always amazing is a rarity, even the best albums have that one duff track lurking around the middle. Murakami starts by mentioning this in the introduction to his latest collection of short stories, but he hits far more than he misses. Talking monkeys, chance encounters and missing people between floors in a housing block are the tip of the surreal beauty contained within.
The stories tend to deal with that isolated loneliness Murakami conveys so well. The events are typically straight forward and even mundane, yet the brushes of detail and comments from the characters express a great sensation of unhappiness. The way Murakami writes strange situations as if they are completely normal is another highlight of his work which spreads through each and every story. Unfortunately a barrage of jazz references, similar character roles and awkward sex scenes pop up and come across as slightly self-indulgent due to the heavy nature of them. But this is a collection of stories throughout his writing career, I’m sure if he made all new stories for a fresh collection the variety would be more apparent, and there is plenty of fresh concepts to make up for any repetitive traits.
The strongest stories tend to be the simplest in form. From cooking spaghetti in ‘The Year Of Spaghetti’ to looking for a missing person between two floors in ‘Where I’m Likely To Find It’ , these stories have simple ideas and progression without any back and forth. In the former we have the protagonist talk about the spaghetti he makes to receiving a call from a girl before linking it in with spaghetti. The latter talks about a detective who walks around the floors of a flat block talking to people and examining things in hopes of finding a missing person. Drama is dealt with great subtlety and lightness, which makes it stick in the mind far longer and they are certainly inspiring for a would be writer in their simple execution and grace.
The collection is mainly stuffed with stories of good to great quality, and the few duffers such as the melodramatic ‘Hanalei Bay’ are a minority which help remind you that these writers aren’t perfect. Which is reassuring.