Haruki Murakami fans discussion

A question about women in Murakami's novels

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message 1: by Yeliz (last edited Dec 22, 2017 11:47PM) (new)

Yeliz Motro (yelizmotro) | 2 comments I've been obsessively reading Murakami novels back to back. I really enjoy his style and the strange fantasy worlds he creates and how he puts us in them as if they're totally normal. There is a lot of good things I can say about his narration. However, I just sort of have a question, especially to women and especially those around my age (~20) who read Murakami.
I've been getting more and more confused about some ways he talks about women characters. I've read elsewhere that some people are unhappy with their sexualization or mental instability, it's not that for me. It's the very little comments that go unchallenged by the female characters who I would expect them to challenge. And I'm just not sure what he's trying to do. Is he simply making a social commentary? Is he challenging the culture that creates these ideas thought by men and accepted by women? Is he reflecting on what he sees around him, in that case are these necessarily relatable/accurate to you guys based on how these female characters act? Or is this just what he thinks as an author told through characters? I'll give some examples and please let me know what you think and if, like me, you feel that you'd be bothered if you were in place of that female character.
For example in After Dark, the young musician Takahashi says to Mari (talking about the big book she's reading) "It's not the size book most girls carry around in their bags" or (talking about trombones) "There are tons of girls who don't even know the instrument exists" or "...it's incredible. For a girl nowadays to know 'Five Spot After Dark'..." and be keeps saying stuff like this throughout the story. Firstly I find this very realistic. I feel like that's a very observant detail about guys his age and personality. I can imagine myself hearing similar things about girls from many guys around me. The typical "you're not like other girls" talk based on possibly narrow ideas of how girls are (which is expectable if they are surrounded by an environment where guys' interactions with girls are only flirtation and not deeper, meaningful friendships (which seems to be the case with Takahashi based on his other experiences)). However what bothers me is the fact that Mari, who seems like a person with strong opinions, doesn't ever challenge these ideas? All I expected after comments like this was "Mari rolled her eyes" or maybe a tiny sarcastic comment to show that she even heard it, cause to me she doesn't seem like a character who would agree with these stereotypes. Like I can't imagine myself hearing stuff like that and not finding it funny or absurd or even random, let alone unnecessary.
But I find that a lot of other female characters do this in other Murakami novels too. Currently I'm reading Norwegian Wood (and I'm only a few chapters in) but I've already come across similar conversations of "you're not the same as other girls" that went unprotested by characters I would expect to be very opinionated in real life. I even just read a sentence that says "Ordinary girls as young as I am are basically indifferent to whether things are fair or not. The central for them is not whether something is fair but whether or not it's beautiful or will make them happy. 'Fair' is a man's word..." Which, for the character that said it, I feel like it might fit. But where does this idea even come from? Is this a commentary on a part of culture that teaches women to think this way? It is set in 1969 so maybe it's reflecting of how things were in the past?
I remember seeing similar bits in Kafka On the Shore and After the Quake and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle as well, however not as prominent. And after reading so many back to back, I just got confused as to what he's trying to do. I'm not annoyed or angry, but just confused. Is it supposed to be a commentary on culture? Observations of conversations from personalities he's heard in real life? Or genuinely what he thinks as an author?
Do you guys also find it a little weird that his female characters think these things about women or let views like this go unchallenged? And if you're a woman, do you think you'd be bothered or would make a comment if you were part of a dialogue like that?
Is there anything else that sticks out to you guys?

message 2: by rahul (new)

rahul (rahulraina) | 15 comments Hello Yeliz,
That is very good question that you put forth. I have read fair number of Murakami novels over the years ( I think around 12 if not more ) and within that there were times when I was binging on him. I had saved The Wind Up Bird Chronicle for the last as I had considered that to be his best work ( based on the reviews ) but it was big let down for me .
With time having passed between my reading of him and distance giving perspective, I think Murakami is the kind of author who writes the same novel again and again. ( One trick pony , dare I say ) .
Through out my reading of his novels the representation of women characters is pretty much how you have just described above. So, ya that sexualization is pretty overt. But had it been only in one or two instances one could let that slide. But more that you will read of him, I think the point reaffirms itself.
Is it a cultural thing? If we have some one from Japanese descent speak on that , it will give us a clearer understanding . But I will venture a guess , that it is more to do with the author's own voice.

I would like to hear your thoughts on Norwegian Wood. I remember it has two female characters, and without giving away much I will simply say that certain observations of yours will again find validation.

I can't pick individual instances now, for it has been a long time since I have read Murakami. But definitely will follow this thread for other comments.
Thanks and have a good day!

PS : Have you seen this review of Wind Up Bird


It sums up lot of Murakami for me. Especially after you give yourself time (and read other Japanese writers who had served as inspiration to him.)

message 3: by Yeliz (new)

Yeliz Motro (yelizmotro) | 2 comments I did see that review actually! Thought it was hilarious and very accurate! :D

I do agree that the more I read Murakami the more I see that he is in fact a writer who rewrites the same things. Though that doesn't necessarily make the stories less enjoyable - at least at my 5th Murakami book, I haven't started feeling that way, although I still like the first book I read from him best (which was Kafka).

I just finished Norwegian Wood a second ago. And I have to say although many things were strangely very relatable (as I always feel like in his stories), it blew me away how unhealthy and fucked up the story gets. I think I have to give myself some resting time before I make my final decision on how I like the book. In terms of narration though, amazingly gripping, again!

In terms of women -- I was thoroughly creeped out by the depiction of the thirteen year old girl. I could not not think about the author as a weird old man fantasizing about a lesbian 13 year old while reading that girl's words which sounded way too experienced for her age. I don't think that one shouldn't be allowed to write a strange story like that, I just get very very easily creeped out by sexual depictions of young women. Also seemed inaccurate cause I found her to sound way more mature than she would have in real life (but that could also be part of her deceiveing character).
Besides that, I did, like you said, feel validated about some of my previous thoughts. But I'm starting to think more and more that it is simply reflective of society/culture. I think most of the women's actions and words could fit that explantion. How Midori's boyfriend is strict about her femininity is acknowledged to some extent as being old-fashioned, so I feel like it could be reflecting a time where these ideas are growing but not completely established. Maybe it makes sense that a strong character like Midori has the confidence to wear a tiny skirt but is unprotesting when hearing a bunch of guys tell him 'what do you expect wearing such a short skirt, of course they'll look at your legs, please wear something longer' etc. Especially considering it's set in late late 60s Japan ---- agreed, would love to hear a review from someone with Japanese origin!
I'm just kind of curious if he meant these to be sort of a criticism as well?

I do want to read other Japanese writers that inspire him. I saw somewhere that Banana Yoshimoto is someone he reads and who also has similar and very well liked books apparently (only heard about her today, so will see). I also would be happy reading a female Japanese writer, as I feel like my issue with this might be coming from Murakami lacking the perspective to write a more in depth depiction of women's experiences. As an example and since this is the most recent one I remember : when I closed the book, the lack of explanation for why Reiko was so care free about Toru not using protection was a big question in my head. Wereas I feel like Murakami wrote it off as something completely unimportant. As a woman, I would be freaking out in a situation like that -- or not freaking out if I communicated how I would solve the problem, but there would need to be *some* communication and not just 'oh don't worry about that, just have it your way, relax and do as you please' like a fantasy girl, which is what I feel like Reiko basically said.
I'm starting to think that maybe he is writing from a man's perspective a little too much for it to be true? Or maybe it's just how a woman might handle such a situation in 1970?

Not sure if I'm just judging it from my generation's perspective too much or if it is Murakami developing female characters slightly inaccuretly.

message 4: by rahul (new)

rahul (rahulraina) | 15 comments I think what you said towards the end, is how I have felt too.
The fact that most of the women are very much like fantasy girls is something that has rung true to me. And a very apt example to prove the point as well.
Also it is possible that maybe he is not good at handling or including conversations related to protection, or even sex for that matter. It is very weird how Murakami writes about it. I donno.
I remember only a couple of short stories written by him with female narrations that I thought were good. ( One was in After the Quake and another in Blind Willow... )

Yes, even I have to read Banana Yoshimoto and maybe that will give more insights to this question being a author thing vs culture thing.

message 5: by Christian (last edited Jan 28, 2018 02:40AM) (new)

Christian | 2 comments Hi,
hope it's ok to answer to this topic one month after the last reply. I agree with your question and I also agree with the answers.
You can divide Murakamis book in two kinds: Those being extremly surreal and those being a bit more realistic, mostly playing in Tokio. Women seem to behave very funny in his books. What I can add is, that in nearly every book the "Angel of Death" visits the protagonist at some point (always as a woman) - in Norwegian Wood it is most obvious and easiest to see.
I am not sure about the Japanese culture, but the stereotypes are that Japanese women are more modest and shy than in the West , so maybe his figures are hyperboles?

Then again, I agree that Murakami is a one-trick-pony (which does not bother me - I love his books and have been binge-reading many of them). And part of every succesful story is a female character - maybe he just found a way which is working very well for many of his readers - a way that sells well.

Last but not least I'd like to add one question to the discussion: I wonder, what his wife thinks about these kinds of women. As we know, Murakami and his wife married extremly early on and she is always the first one to read and judge his novels. So Murakami seems to lead a very monogamous life, while most of his characters are having pretty interesting sexual experiences and nearly all protagonists have some meaningless intercourses.

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