First Person Singular

Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel

 
First Person Singular
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First Person Singular

Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel

A mindbending new collection of short stories from the unique, internationally acclaimed author of Norwegian Wood and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.


The eight masterly stories in this new collection are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator. From nostalgic memories of youth, meditations on music and an ardent love of baseball to dreamlike scenarios, an encounter with a talking monkey and invented jazz albums, together these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator who may or may not be Murakami himself is present. Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides.

Philosophical and mysterious, the stories in First Person Singular all touch beautifully on love and solitude, childhood and memory… all with a signature Murakami twist.

Review

A traveller takes a drink with a melancholy monkey working in a run-down inn. A writer stumbles across a fictitious jazz record he made up for an old review as a joke. A man finds himself drawn to a mysterious woman based on their shared love of Schumann. Haruki Murakami’s singular blend of the ordinary and surreal is on full display in this collection of eight mesmeric short stories, all linked by their shared use of the first-person perspective. Some of these stories have previously appeared in literary journals, while others are available here in English for the first time.

Fans of Murakami will undoubtedly enjoy this grab bag of many of the writer’s repeated motifs and themes: baseball, memory, loneliness, the capricious path of fate, youthful longing, and the sweet airs of music. One of the collection’s highlights, ‘Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova’, unfolds like a score; at times the prose cranks the tension with neurotic staccato beats, others it swells with nostalgia-infused dreaminess. In just a few, fleeting pages, it had me fully immersed – ‘Go back!’ I was mentally shouting at the narrator – and left me grinning at its punchy blast of a final line.

That immersive quality and masterful control of prose is, of course, what makes Murakami’s magical realism so transfixing and what keeps his devotees camped out for more. Murakami seems fully aware of (and wryly bemused by) his cult-like status, and stories like ‘The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection’ and ‘With the Beatles’ raise tantalising questions of how closely they hew to autobiography. Murakami has his detractors as well, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that some of these stories are taking playful shots at his critics – particularly those who have commented on his portrayal of women – but to varying degrees of success. However you feel, First Person Singular contains much to discuss and savour. Readers new to this fascinating writer’s work will find these short, odd pieces an inviting and accessible entry point.


Jackie Tang is the editor of the Readings Monthly.

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