Candiss's Reviews > The Elephant Vanishes

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
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Nov 05, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: short-stories, japan
Read in November, 2009

I really enjoyed this selection by Murakami, although - as is usual for me upon reading a collection of short stories - I really feel I would need to rate each story separately to give an accurate picture of my feelings on the book. There were (from my perspective) some stellar 5s, as well as some solid 3.5s/4s...and a couple of meh 2s/3s.

Murakami is a terrifically talented writer who approaches each subject from just a few degrees off-center. Even in the most mundane circumstances, things in his stories are never quite what they seem; there is always a bit of the surreal or the dream-like or the blatant what-the-heck waiting right around the corner. If this collection has one unifying thematic element, it is that sense of strangeness just beneath the surface of the familiar. There is also a feeling of definite neutrality to each story. I don't suppose that makes a lot of sense, but it's the best word I can find to illustrate the going-through-the-motions sort of ennui typical of many of the characters until the moment they - and we - notice something unusual has slipped quietly into the narrative while neither of us was looking.

Some stories were thought-provoking, while others were disturbing. A few were humorous, several ironic, and still others were so poignant and sweet they provoked tears. Some I loved and immediately wanted to re-read; others lulled me so that I had to set my jaw and insist upon finishing. I was struck by the range of the stories and kept thinking that another reader might well love the ones I found dull or despise my favorites.

My intuition wants to label this collection "experimental", as the author utilizes so many different styles. He visits many moods, and the collective result defies easy categorization. It's not really fantasy, not quite horror, not romance or simple slice-of-life - although there are elements of each of these present. The whole of the thing skates along those murkier literary definitions such as slipstream and magical realism, like a daydream or one of the subtler episodes of The Twilight Zone. Musing "what-if"? Post-modern angst? Speculative anxiety study? Veiled social satire? All of those live within the pages of this intriguing selection of stories by one of Japan's most celebrated and popular modern authors.
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11/14/2009 page 218
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