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Saturday, April 03, 2021

Book review: First Person Singular, by Haruki Murakami | Books - The Scotsman

The deceptively simple short stories in this new collection by Haruki Murakami offer many pleasures along with occasional irritations, writes Allan Massie, Scottish journalist.

Haruki Murakami pictured outside Hans Christian Andersen's house in Odense
Photo: Henning Bagger / Scanpix Denmark / AFP via Getty Images

Haruki Murakami is a writer of considerable charm. His books are often like that sort of sweet, even sugary music described as being “easy listening.” This collection of eight short stories, each – as the title suggests – written in the first person, certainly offers easy reading. The voice is the same in each story, so one may assume each has the same narrator, and may suspect that there is some element of autobiography. Certainly it is difficult not to identify the narrator with the author.

Most are trivial. That’s to say, success depends on the manner, not the material. There is very little narrative interest. The stories meander like a river through gentle countryside. Some are whimsical. One has the narrator engaged in conversation with a monkey who tells him that he is attracted to women not to female monkeys, and that being unable to fulfil his desires, he “started stealing the names of women I fell for.” This is an example of what one reviewer has called Murakami’s “beguiling simplicity.”.

Some of the stories work even for the unbeguiled. “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova,” for example. As a student and jazz enthusiast, the narrator writes an article about a record that was never made and never could have been made, the great saxophone player Charlie “Bird” Parker being dead aged only 34, several years before that style of samba music was developed...

This new book will surely please those who already know and delight in his work, and serve as an enjoyable introduction for those unfamiliar with it. Sometimes the faux-naif tone may be tiresome, but mostly he offers agreeable comfort reading. Some will read it as pure fiction, more perhaps as a lightly fictionalised memoir. It doesn’t matter which it is. The pleasures and occasional irritations will be the same.

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Source: The Scotsman