I think I'm over Murakami. Norwegian Wood is the book that propelled him to fame in his native Japan and drove him to live abroad for years and it's bI think I'm over Murakami. Norwegian Wood is the book that propelled him to fame in his native Japan and drove him to live abroad for years and it's billed as his most "normal" novel. Yeah, it's normal if you're idea of normal is an all girl's school with a care taker that burns 180 sanitary napkins per day.
I have the same problems with this one that I find with some of his other works in that it feels similar to some of his other books. In this case, Norwegian Wood reminds me of Sputnik Sweetheart (yuk) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (eh).
To me, Murakami's at his best in novels like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore, where the magical meets the mundane. Otherwise he tends to focus far too much time and energy exploring human depression, and that depression tends to infect every single character rather than a single being. When everyone is inflicted with the same sickness, it makes it hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel, or make any of the characters feel unique. Yes, we're all different and we've all got our issues, but for every character to be so negatively focused and suicidal just feel outrageous.
Hopefully the English translation of 1984 will be a return to form. I've got one more to go before then, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World....more
“The Accidental Woman” is author Jonathan Coe’s first novel and was until now the only remaining work he had written that I had yet to read. It isn’t as sprawling as “What a Carve Up!” is or so achingly perfect as “The House of Sleep” is, but it still has a unique charm all of it’s own, even if the subject matter presented is particularly bleak.
Maybe it’s just my opinion as a man, and I certainly would love to hear a woman’s take on this, but to me Jonathan Coe is the best male writer of female characters that I’ve ever encountered. That’s not to say that he writes women as _I_ expect them to think, act, and feel, but rather that even when I disagree with what they’re saying, doing, or emoting, they still seem 100% genuine to me.
Unlike many other authors, too numerous to even begin to name here, the women he writes about are just as powerfully presented and well-thought out as the men are. They’re never one dimensional objects put there just to advance the story or serve a certain plot point. Rather, they’re presented as they should be, as multi-faceted individuals who carry around hopes, dreams, and desires all of their own, entirely equal and on par with those of their male counterparts. “The Accidental Woman” known as Maria is no exception.
Maria does not understand, and cannot feel emotions, particularly when it comes to friendship, family, and love. For these reasons she rarely connects with anyone and most people who meet her instantly develop an enormous hatred for her. Fellow students will make up derogatory nicknames for her. Co-workers will go out of their way to slam doors in her face. Roommates will steal valuables from her. The list goes on.
All this is okay with Maria though because doesn’t see the point or have the patience for any of it. She doesn’t feel as though she particularly needs any type of companionship in order to live.
Because of Maria’s lack of the ability to feel emotions she can’t begin to comprehend those that drive the people who surround her. All through her life she’s followed by Ronnie, a boy deeply infatuated with her, but whose advances she continually spurns. She can’t understand why he continues to persist. She sees her younger brother as being something of a strange character as well, though she can never quite put her finger on why.
While it’s the story of Maria’s life we’re being told (or rather stories from it) there’s another powerful character at work here in the form of the book’s nameless narrator. In this respect Coe seems to once again be paying homage to the work of B.S. Johnson in an attempt to break down the walls between the writer and reader. The narrator is conversational, never confrontational, and inserts himself only when he deems it a true necessity in order to move the story along.
And move it does as we follow Maria’s struggles throughout her life to make sense of, and live in peace with, the world around her. She’s a huge bummer of a character, there’s simply no way around that, but Coe’s gift for writing about the perfectly absurd little moments that we all encounter save this novel and twist it into something that weighs in heavier on the side of humor then on the side of depression.
If you’ve never read a Jonathan Coe novel before I wouldn’t recommend that you start here. As a matter of fact, I’d probably place this near the bottom of the list as one of my least favorite offerings, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good book. Rather, Coe’s later novels are so brilliantly layered with multiple characters and carefully crafted plotlines that this early work simply pales in comparison....more