Men Without Women is a compilation of stories by Haruki Murakami. In my opinion, there is no one better than Murakami in conveying the sense of unease which lurks underneath the day-to-day living. His characters frequently straddle the world of shadows and normal – sometimes with acceptance and sometimes with fear.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami was the first novel by him that I read. And I fell in love with his style of writing – his handling of the idea of ‘staring at the abyss’, the uncanny lurking right outside the convention of everyday life which you only have to look for for it to be staring back at you. It is interesting to know that Murakami actually wrote in English and then translated his writing into Japanese. Which I think provides the style of writing that is so unique to Murakami.
Men Without Women consists of all these ideas and more which I consider to be characteristics of a Murakami work of art. The first of them is the idea of loneliness – especially the idea of male loneliness. The title itself is the first pointer to this idea of loneliness. The story itself which provides the title of the novel is steeped in this idea of man who keeps losing the woman that he loves. Kafuko – the first character that you come across when you start reading – is still reeling from the death of his wife and even more so from her unfaithfulness. “Samsa in Love” is another story where this idea gets codified.
The story that I was enthralled by was “Kino”. This story reminded me of the glory of Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84. The man owning the bar and then suddenly fleeing into an unknown existence – the subtle sense of uncanny which follows him. It gave me a slight shiver in the back while I was reading it – especially the knocking on the door. This is where Murakami excelled in the volume. He began innocuously enough with a man who opened a bar and a customer who always visited the bar. Then, it suddenly was thrown into chaos. The imagery of animals lend another air of disquiet to the events surrounding Kino.
The other stories that I enjoyed was “Yesterday” and “The Independent Organ” which explore additional perspectives on alienation – the idea of rejection, feelings of insecurity and language isolation. Without giving away character and event spoilers – I would say that Men Without Women is a very good expression of the uncanny and the experience of alienation. It is also an example of clear style of writing that manages to convey the underlying layers of shadow in his storytelling. I really enjoyed being lost in Murakami’s vision of reality and I would love to get back to rereading some of the stories again.