I must assert from the outset that I am not a particular fan of the short story genre. However, this collection dealing with individuals touched in some way by the Kobe earthquake in Japan has turned that opinion on its head and shows Murakami to be a master of the form.
My main problem with a lot of short stories is that they seem forced and in some way less than a novel-length piece. Murakami proves that it is the writer’s skill that limits them not the form itself, each of these stories existing as a perfect self-contained whole without any need for the reader to long for a longer piece. His characterisation is brilliant. He manages to convey the emptiness of a man whose marriage has disintegrated and a collection of misfits brought together by a bonfire on the beach using few words and sparse prose, lovingly crafted. He is an expert at descriptives, the hangover at the beginning of ‘All God’s Children Can Dance’ a prime example of this. This is a humorous and slightly oedipal tale of a man finding his faith and demonstrates that Murakami is capable of intertwining humour and depth without trivialising his work.
He writes from many perspectives, each as alive in his work as the others – a broken man, an embittered female with regret eating away at her inside, among others. The reader is left with a sense of priviledge at being able to bear witness to a moment in the lives of characters that live on past the end of Murakami’s tales. It is a sensation of a perfect glimpse of a moment and the context it stands in, not the impression that the author has been constrained by the format. There are still elements of Murakami’s whimsy and magic such as the giant frog, a harbinger of disasters to come. In a testament to his characterisation, you find yourself accepting and rooting for the frog against the odds.
The enduring theme of these stories is that of rebuilding – as Kobe has to rebuild after the destruction wreaked by the earthquake, so these characters have to rebuild their lives. The reader is left with a sense of hope that they will succeed. This is a masterclass in the art form and leaves other authors in the shade. Definitely worth the time spent reading and a 1001 book choice that I have no problem with!