Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" by Haruki Murakami

Summary: A collection of unusual short stories.

Musings: In describing my feelings about Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, it's difficult to know where to start.  I think that's because the stories themselves are so unquantifiable that to try to talk about them seems almost impossible.  These are stories that, when finished, the first reaction is: "Uh....?" Because no matter how carefully you read, you immediately feel like there's something there that you just didn't get.  A few of the stories, especially near the end, have some sense of resolution and meaning, but most have no obvious plot arc or theme.  For example, here's my summary of "A Perfect Day for Kangaroos," one of Murakami's typical stories (chosen because it's short and relatively easy to summarize):
A couple learns that a new baby kangaroo has been born at the zoo.  They plan on going to see the baby, but things come up, the weather is bad, and it's about a month before they get around to going to see it.  When they do go, the girlfriend is bummed because the baby isn't so much a baby anymore--it's hopping around on its own.  The boyfriend buys chocolate ice cream, and the girlfriend asks him a bunch of questions about kangaroos: how to they hop? why do the babies live in pouches?  They buy Cokes and hot dogs.  When they come back to the exhibit, the baby kangaroo it sitting in its mother's pouch, which the girlfriend is happy to see.  They leave and the boyfriend asks if the girlfriend wants to go out for a beer.
Most are even stranger and less linear, though the majority take place within the "real" world.  But, even though none of the stories "made sense" in a typical way, I never felt like I was being taken on a pointless journey, and I didn't feel deceived or duped by Murakami.  In fact, every story was immensely interesting and entertaining, like a fabulous new ghost story, only there's no real ending, and the reader is left with just a hint of meaning.  A character in an early story captures my feelings exactly: "I felt like I knew what he was getting at. At the same time, I felt that I had no idea what he meant" (40).

The stories are very short (there's 24 in the approximately 300-page collection), so the pace moves quickly.  I suppose the length also means that the reader is never so invested in a character or storyline that he or she feels let down without a typical climax or resolution.

There are some general recurring themes, though I can't pinpoint anything exactly: loneliness, relationships, old albums and jazz. My favorite stories are probably the ones that are weirdest, namely "Dabchick" and "A Shinagawa Monkey."

Like a good mystery, I think Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman would be a lot of fun to talk over with friends or a book group, and it would definitely be worth a reread.

***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.


  1. Hi! I'm glad I chanced upon your review through the PoC challenge, we are also participating in the Murakami reading challenge - and I think that this book is a perfect add-in to our TBR pile by Murakami. I've only read one of his novels, and it did seem to have that surreal component to it. Interesting.

  2. I definitely hope to read one of his novels. It would be interesting to see how he incorporates the surreal element to a longer work. I may have to check on the Murakami challenge as well!