I once asked a reader of Haruki Murakami, where would you place his books? Not Harold Bloom but just as opinionated, the loyal reader immediately responded, and added: “Magical realism; the plots are plausible, but they are not. He, of course, was referring to the absurd storylines of Murakami’s stories made superbly achievable by his elegant storytelling; for example, A Shingawa Monkey (2006), in which a monkey from one of Tokyo’s special districts steals the names of young women he wants. I refer to this essay only because the monkey and his story reappear in this collection.
There are eight stories in all and the magic unleashed is a testament not only to Murakami but also to his multilingual translator Philip Gabriel. In Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, we understand his passion for running. Likewise in this, the author’s relationship to music is reinforced, almost to the point of being didactic. In fact, reading First Person Singular, even the non-musicians among us will get by in a living room discussion of Western classical music.
There are three stories in the collection that have a fair amount of music, starting with “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova”. The narrator, a student, writes the review of an imaginary Parker album, like a joke. Fast forward until the adult narrator walks into a music store and spies on Parker’s album there. The perplexity of finding a nonexistent record is real, as is Murakami’s love for jazz. The author writes: “If you like jazz, or if you have the slightest love for music, then you absolutely must listen to this charming record, the fruit of a passionate heart and a cool mind …” Death appears when Parker enters the narrator’s dream and talks about humming a Beethoven melody, Piano Concerto No. 1, to his death. Isn’t that a very nice way to proceed, with a melody playing in your head? I searched for the article on YouTube and read through the comments section while listening to it. Lo and behold, many had commented that they had been there because of Murakami’s story.
“With the Beatles” begins with the narrator seeing a young woman walking down the hallway of the school holding a Beatles album firmly against her chest. This scene is forever etched in his mind even though he will never see it again. The story then goes on to talk about the popularity of the Beatles in Japan, the “pretty music” of Percy Faith, the narrator’s high school student girlfriend, his brother with acute blackouts and the story of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, The Spinning Gears. Murakami’s mastery in storytelling weaves all of these together effortlessly, and Akutagawa’s actual suicide is an important reference at the end.
“Carnival” is my favorite even if it starts with a problematic sentence (and there are several): of all the women I have known so far, she was the ugliest … Critics in the past have spoken of Murakami’s masculine gaze, (his penchant for describing a woman’s earlobes is legendary) and it comes to the fore here. But the description of the music is divine. The narrator and the woman, whom he calls F *, delve deep into the merits and demerits of various pianists playing Schumann’s Carnival that the narrator decides to be the only piano piece he would take with him to an island. deserted. The story ends on a non-musical turn, but what an incredible Carnival thesis!
The other stories are just as compelling: “Cream”, “On a Stone Pillow”, “The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection” – a glimpse of Murakami’s love for baseball and his first collection of baseball poetry as, at the time, no one was paying. beware, but now these simply bound books have become collector’s items “fetching incredible prices”. Then there’s “First Person Singular” and “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” – the latter is an addition to the Shinagawa monkey saga and its name-stealing habits which may be related to deeper levels of have a “name” importance. Maybe Murakami will have another monkey story in the future, who knows?
But what readers will realize is why Murakami is successful as a storyteller. His stories are descriptive with simple prose. They have fantasy, romance, love and loneliness. What makes his books so appealing is, as the loyal reader commented, the fact that you can put his books down and after a few days have a hard time remembering them. “It’s great, actually. “