Vicky "phenkos"'s Reviews > Men Without Women

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
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really liked it

4.5 stars, really enjoyed this!

My first encounter with Murakami was several years ago when I read Audition. I remember disliking that book intensely because I found it conveyed an unoriginal and problematic view of women - women as dangerous predators - so I decided never to read another book by Murakami again. However, the front cover and title of this one appealed to me (my copy has a different front cover from the one depicted on here, it's a circle cut in two halves that don't fit together, a symbolism, I suppose, of a broken relationship). I decided to have another go at this extremely successful author whom everyone, it seemed, liked, but me. I was enthralled from the first few pages, the writing was genuine and accomplished, and I couldn't find much evidence of the misogynistic attitude that had marred my previous reading experience. I was intrigued. Had I changed or had Murakami changed? I couldn't figure it out, so I checked Audition again. Heck, the name on the cover was Ryu Murakami, not Haruki! What an idiot! I'd refused to read Murakami because I hadn't bothered to read carefully the author's first name! And boy, is (Haruki) Murakami worth reading!

The stories included in this collection are all about the theme of men without women. The first story 'Drive My Car' is about an ageing actor whose wife has died. Because of eyesight issues he hires a young woman to drive him around, mainly to the theatre and back. Neither of them is very talkative but one day the driver asks him about his life and the man opens up. 'Yesterday' is about the friendship of two young men -- just past adolescence -- who work at the same coffee shop. The narrator studies at college whilst Kitaru, his friend, studies to pass his university entrance exams. However, he doesn't study hard and has already failed to pass his exams twice. He's a strange sort, this Kitaru; he speaks in the Kansai dialect (which the narrator knows because he's from Kansai but never speaks himself because he lives in Tokyo). But Kitaru is not from Kansai, and only has the accent because he taught himself to speak it. I guess this is a bit like speaking Geordie in Oxford, not because one is from 'up north' but because one has made that choice.

The story I liked best was called 'Scheherazade' and is about a woman who tells the narrator a story every time they've had sex. One of these stories is about how this woman, who as a teenager had fallen for a classmate, was so frustrated by this boy's complete lack of interest that she decided to break into his house. She broke into his house three times, and each time she stole something of his. She was very aware of the risks she was taking -- after all, this was criminal activity in a small town where everyone would talk if she was caught -- and yet she felt she had no choice but continue to break in to her love interest's bedroom. I was very interested in this conflict, where you know the consequences are going to be dire if you get caught, yet, you cannot help yourself. I think as adults we tend to be more 'mature', weigh up the consequences, and rarely stray, but there is in every single one of us this 'crazy' streak that does not abide to 'law and order', to what is right and wrong, even when we are fully aware of the consequences and even dread them.

Many of these stories were like this, such as, for instance, 'Kino', which, like 'Scheherazade' was about the split between what we consciously think and how we suppress our unconscious hurt and desire to fit more' mature', more 'adult' expectations. At the same time, Murakami is a master of the short story genre and leaves just enough to the imagination. We can see Raymond Carver's influence here, but also Kafka's. In fact, one of the stories is about someone or something becoming Gregor Samsa, the character in Kafka's 'Metamorphosis'. In that sense, these stories are not like minute novels that bring meaning and an element of completion upon the human condition, but rather like snapshots, allowing us to catch glimpses of other lives -- glimpses that are disconnected, ambiguous, enigmatic, often puzzling, always suggestive.
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Reading Progress

June 7, 2018 – Shelved
June 7, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
June 28, 2018 – Started Reading
June 29, 2018 –
page 150
62.5%
June 30, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov You are nicely attuned to Carver and Kafka, Vicky!


message 2: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Strydom Wonderful review. Had a chuckle about your author-confusion. Isn't it weird how our eyes see what we expect to read? Makes me wonder what else I get wrong without even realising!


Vicky "phenkos" HBalikov wrote: "You are nicely attuned to Carver and Kafka, Vicky!"

Thanks, H! I quite like the short story genre, and these two were masters of the craft!


message 4: by Vicky (last edited Jun 11, 2019 04:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Vicky "phenkos" Amelia wrote: "Wonderful review. Had a chuckle about your author-confusion. Isn't it weird how our eyes see what we expect to read? Makes me wonder what else I get wrong without even realising!"

Thanks Amelia! Weird, indeed! This thing (my eyes seeing what they want to see) has happened to me so often it's embarrassing!


message 5: by Steven (new)

Steven Godin I remember watching the movie Audition when it came out. The ending wasn't for the squeamish that's for sure!


Vicky "phenkos" Steven wrote: "I remember watching the movie Audition when it came out. The ending wasn't for the squeamish that's for sure!"

I haven't seen the film, did you enjoy it? Tbh, I don't remember the book itself very well. I do clearly remember thinking that I couldn't bear to read another book with a treacherous female main character, but of course the film may have reworked this theme or used it in a more original way.


message 7: by Ilse (new)

Ilse Beautiful review, Vicky, it has been some time I have been reading Murakami and these short stories sound quite alluring (I liked your observation on that 'crazy streak' in each of us, trespassing rules fully aware we do commit little sins, despite fearing the consequences - this sounds pretty much like the daily little insubordinances at work :-). Glad you discovered the 'other' Murakami and that his writing resonated with you!(by the same confusion, I almost bought In the Miso Soup in my fave second hand bookshop, but the blurb made me look twice :-)).


Vicky "phenkos" Thanks, Ilse! I quite liked these short stories, do let me know your thoughts if you get the chance to read them! Murakami attends to and nurtures our 'crazy streak', which is one of the reasons I read him. In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami? I can see it has been reviewed quite extensively on GR, though not enthusiastically endorsed...


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