A review of the much touted novel by the Japanese author. The novel has its ardent fans all over the globe.
This book was lent to me by a friend. A friend who wasn’t much impressed with the buzz surrounding the book but read it anyway. I began the book with zero expectations and was in for a nice surprise.
The book has a fistful of characters but they are all very memorable.
Mari Asai is the nineteen year old Japanese girl who is learning Chinese. She is the studious one of the two sisters. We are introduced to her as a solitary girl reading a thick book in a cafe at midnight.
Eri Asai is the pretty one. She is Mari’s sister who had been given the Snow White treatment. We are told that she is in deep sleep.
Kaoru is the manager of Alphaville – a love hotel if you will. She used to be a wrestler and is now just a heftly lady with worldwise tricks.
Komugi and Korogi are the helpers at Alphaville.
Takahashi is the trombone playing cute guy who seems to have a crush on Mari.
Shirakawa is a corporate employee. He somehow strangely fits in this equation.
All the characters come with a distinct flavour. It is easy to get under their skin and understand their conflict because Murakami does not let them emote. He just lets them play out.
Good luck explaining the plot of this book to anyone. Ehh… there is a girl who is not waking up from her deep sleep. And there is a TV haunting her. There is also her sister who loves her. She goes to a cafe to read a book and spend the night. And then, well, she helps out a Chinese prostitute. Nothing makes sense. A guy flirts with her. There is a shady hotel. Ehh… you know, plot.
The fact is that the plot is not very linear. The writer has spent the time in creating wonderful settings and descriptions instead of advancing the plot. There is a metaphysical element to it. The plot is also open for interpretation. You may consider the sleep as a mental ailment. It can be about death, depression, loneliness, alienation – it can be anything.
I am pretty sure that much has been lost to translation but still, the language is the high point of the novel. The descriptions are vivid. The sentences are short and easy to follow but still one is compelled to read and reread lines to truly understand them. All descriptions contribute to the overall mood of the novel. It does have a profound impact on the reader.
The cover is minimalist and memorable. The black background and the red shadows are simply perfect. It is an artful way of showing a man’s vision of a lonely life in the city or you know whatever you want it to be.
Murakami leaves us hints about the book’s intention. In the beginning, Mira is shown reading a book – not trying to get to the end but chewing on every line. It is also, incidentally, how we’re supposed to read this book.
Toward the end, there is talk of memories being fuel for life. The book evokes a lot of memories in the reader. I think the inference is toward recognizing the thoughts and emotions those memories evoke. And then seeing the novel in that light. Eg. it would help to think about your own sibling or loved one when reading about the estrangement between Eri and Mari.
5 out of 5 stars.