Peter John McLean

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (Reviews)

So I just finished reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. It has twenty four stories, which means it took me twenty four days to read it (I read one story every morning). I have to say that compared to The Elephant Vanishes, I think that this is a far stronger collection of short stories (and I loved The Elephant Vanishes). The main difference is the quality of the prose.

Both collections are loaded with extremely strange stories about robbing fast-food joints and divorcing your husband over his pants and barn burning and ice men and giving away expensive wardrobes of a dead woman’s clothes to a personal assistant and crows that can’t agree about the quality of sharpie cakes. So no matter what, if you bought a collection of Murakami’s short stories you are guaranteed absurdity and deadpan humor.

But Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman involves more particular prose. Murakami has admitted that he considers his ultimate goal in writing is to tinker with sentences, and his ability in this regard is super obvious in the short stories.

One of the things that Murakami excels at is crafting extremely unique characters who explain or incorporate very complex emotions. This was apparent in The Elephant Vanishes, where a woman explains how German trousers helped her see her husband in a completely new light and resulted in their divorce. But it was sparse in The Elephant Vanishes. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, however, has many stories involving strange and complicated relationships, often with mid thirties married couples, including a man who abandoned his wife and child to be with a woman in Greece.

The stories in this collection are great introductory works for someone completely unfamiliar with Murakami, though I am particularly fond of this article on the best order to read Murakami.

It is worth mentioning that these stories are some of Murakami’s strangest. They would be a great introductory text for someone looking for extremely creative stories told with mastery, but alternatively, if you aren’t much for magical realism and refuse to suspend disbelief, regardless of the believability of the characters, this really isn’t the book for you. Read Norwegian Wood.

Specific Stories to Look Forward To

There are a few stories, which I will outline below with summaries, that you should specifically buy the book for.

  • Nausea 1979 – in which a guy starts vomiting every day while also getting strange calls where the caller says nothing, all of which happens after he stops banging his friend’s wife
  • Hanalei Bay – in which a surfer dies, his mother goes to collect his things, and in the process of visiting Hawaii to gather her son’s things she helps a few other Japanese tourists who are her sons age; I won’t spoil the rest
  • Tony Takitani – in which Murakami throws the normal limitations of narrative out the window and steps in the mind of any character he chooses at any time he chooses to; not a personal favorite, but worth reading just to see how an extremely competent writer does something most writers should generally avoid
  • Where I’m Likely to Find It – a story about a pro bono detective and a man who disappears in his own condo building, on his way from his mother’s condo to his own, where his wife was making him pancakes (who disappears after requesting his wife make him pancakes?)

The rest of the stories are all great. The only one I thought was lousy was Tony Takitani, and even that one has an interesting story and is written with the standard level of Murakami wit and absurdity we have all come to expect.