Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN: Don’t get me wrong. This book is good, but it’s not very consistent

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a collection of twenty-four short stories by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The stories are translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, like other Murakami books.

Like Murakami’s other works, this book has successfully employed a surreal atmosphere and knack for symbolism and wordplay. It shows me the absurdity of everyday things, and the fantastical in the ordinary. However, these traits are rather on the overall impression of the book, for, when I look at the stories individually, some of them seem to be lacking in these departments. I’m not saying that some of the stories are mediocre. I just want to point out that some of the stories are being outshined by the others, for there is no consistency in the quality of work. This is understandable, for I really shouldn’t expect every story to be a masterpiece. Of course, some will turn out to be better than the others are, especially when I put into consideration that Murakami has written these stories in different years in his writing career.

Personally, the most impressive of these stories are the last five -- stories that have also appeared in the book Strange Tales from Tokyo -- Birthday Girl, and The Seventh Man. Why I find them as such is their being perfect models of the author’s writing style. They are the works that portray Murakami’s style in its full effectiveness, for Murakami’s ability to pull off the surreal atmosphere, and still being able to present prose that has deeper meaning between the lines, are present in these works. They are on a different level of quality that they seem to overshadow other good surreal pieces like Man-Eating Cats and The Ice Man. I’m not saying that there is a specific formula for a ‘short story’, but these stories seem to be the ones who have the most prominent impression of ‘short story’ in them in the collection. The reason for this is the fact that they are not too simplistic and linear, and their foundation is complicated enough to devour a couple of pages with real content -- just like how real short stories are.

            Speaking of this concept, some stories in this collection doesn’t present themselves as real short stories. They are dubbed as ‘short shorts’, and, I must say, that that is the perfect epithet. These include The Mirror, A Perfect Day for Kangaroos, Dabchick, The Year of Spaghetti, and The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes. These stories are good in their own ways, for they have concepts that are rather dreamy, and they have been pulled off effectively with the use of wit and wordplay. However, they seem to be put in the shade, for they are not as good as the ‘real short stories’ in the collection. Aside from that, the fact that these stories solely depend on symbolism and not on the development of the plot could make them problematic for other readers.

Other stories in the collection that I have not mentioned yet are the stories that don’t leave much of an impression to me. Among them, perhaps the only notable one is Tony Takitani because the loneliness of the character has been communicated well. I don’t mean that they are mediocre. They just seem to lack the real magic of Murakami’s writing, and most of their plotlines are rather nonsensical.

Overall, I still find this to be a good collection of short stories. The main problem I have with it is the inconsistency with the quality of work. However, when taken as a whole, I come to realize that some of the stories are just so good that they make up for the others, so my general impression of the book still remains positive.

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