“Excuse me, Sir, a friend has been raving about this guy and I am trying to decide which one to take. I was wondering if you’ve read anything from him…”
I was at the Chapters outlet in Pointe Claire, minding my business – browsing – enjoying the feel of the crisp covers between my fingers and relishing the new book smell which is typical of retail book stores.
I rarely buy books new. Why would I, when I can get a paperback for 25c at Nova, the second-hand book store by the riverside? The rare occassion when I do venture to actually buy a book at Chapters is when they organize those book signings. If you are a regular, they call you and in case it happens to be a Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro or Rohinton Mistry, you don’t want to miss the occassion. A signed first edition hard cover, if preserved carefully, can be worth a grand in five to ten years – for a $30 purchase, that’s a 3000% return. Not a bad investment.
That day I was there for an Anita Rao Badami signing, of her ‘Tamarind mem’. She hadn’t yet arrived and here I was, whiling away my time, leafing through scores of books.
On hearing the voice from behind me, I turned. The man was gaunt with spaniel eyes and he was holding up three paperbacks in his hands for my scrutiny. On the covers was emblazoned ‘Haruki Murakami’ and below, the titles.
“Never heard of the guy, sorry,” I said apologetically, trying to outdo his spaniel eyes with my spaniel smile, “Where did you find them?”
“Over there by the water fountain, next to the ‘Canadian Authors’ rack, ” he said and shuffled away.
I found the Murakamis occupying one whole shelf and did some speed reading and I found he had a zany style. The first impression having been great, I resolved to look for him at Nova or the library and I found one at the Roman, Anglais (English – Fiction) section of the Bibliothèque Guy-Godin.
The title was ‘Men without women’. Long story short – I didn’t regret my choice.
Turns out, Murakami is a superstar in Japan – an international literary icon and a perpetual also-ran for the Nobel Literature Prize. He has published over twennie books, many of which have been translated into English.
Also turns out, everyone seems to know Murakami except me.
‘Men without women’ left me bursting with the need to discuss it with somebody. When I did find someone – Kenny at the lunch table at work – I couldn’t coherently put my thoughts into words. It was like waking up from a really complicated dream and then attempting to explain the fast dissipating memory of it to someone.
That is what strikes me about Murakami’s writing. You don’t have to understand it to be affected by it. It shoves you into scenarios that are at once absurd, emotional, bizarre and zany.
‘Men without women’ is a collection of short stories that have an intimate and ethereal feel to them. The situations in them are, that’s right – emotional, bizarre and zany. There’s one about the friend who wants him to date his girlfriend (because then he can be sure she isn’t going out with any random person). The friend doesn’t mind if he even has sex with her. Then the one about the confirmed life-long bachelor and man about town who finally falls head over heels in love with one of his many conquests – a married woman. When he cannot handle the agony of not being able to possess her, he does something totally bizarre, which I’ll let you find out.
If you love short stories, or you just want to dip your toes into the Murakami sea without committing to a whole novel, this collection is for you.