Publication: April 18th 2014 by Vintage Pages: 240 Purchase: Amazon | Waterstones | Book Depository Across seven tales, Murakami draws his piercing observation to the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and The Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all. Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Haruki Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.
“But maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sand when the world is falling apart.”
Since the day my mum came home with a battered copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle from a charity shop, declaring that “it was written by a Japanese author, so [I] would probably like it” (I was 15 years old, and at the height of my obsession with Japanese culture), I’ve considered Haruki Murakami to be one of my favourite authors. In recent years, however, I’ve drifted away from reading his works and, although most of them are sitting on my bookshelves, have not yet picked up any of his newer books.
Last week, I found myself with two days left between finishing Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and the release of Holly Black’s eagerly anticipated The Wicked King. I was reluctant to dive into a bigger book — so, after a quick browse of my shelves, I decided that a collection of short stories would be a perfect filler.
Over the years, I’ve realised that Murakami books generally fall into two different categories: utterly surreal (see: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; Kafka on the Shore), or harshly realistic (Norwegian Wood; South of the Border, West of the Sun). Men Without Women falls mostly into the latter category. It is a collection that details the lives of men after their loved ones have left them – exploring not only the emotions of these men, but the different ways in which they cope with the loss.
I enjoyed some of the stories in this collection more than others – namely, Drive My Car, Kino and Samsa in Love. The latter two especially featured the sort of writing that I think makes Murakami great. The other stories were enjoyable, too, each bringing something a little different to the table – but each one delivering the same difficult theme of life after loss.
The only let-down for me, and the reason I haven’t given this collection a stronger rating, is the final story, which shares a title with the book itself. This one was a bit too literary for me – and not in an enjoyable way. I found it quite tedious to read, especially since it followed Samsa in Love, which I found to be particularly enjoyable.
Overall, this was a great little collection of stories that has reminded why I loved Haruki Murakami so much. I’m looking forward to working my way through his newer works in the upcoming months.
“So in the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.”