Friday, 8 September 2006

REVIEWs: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman AND In Patagonia.

Do check out my review of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman in today's StarTwo:

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

Japanese literary renegade, Haruki Murakami, is well-known as a novelist but not so much for his short stories. He is, in fact, quite prolific when it comes to short stories, and has been writing them since 1980 after he finished his first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball. His stories have been published all over the place, from Granta, to the New Yorker, to McSweeny’s. In fact, if you bother to go look for them, you’ll find his stories up online too, available legally and free. Some of these stories have been compiled before into a collection called The Elephant Vanishes. That collection didn’t necessarily represent the best of what he had to offer at the time, and I found it varying in quality and mostly forgettable.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, translated by Phillip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, gathers together the rest of his short stories written from 1980 to 2005. As with the first collection, the stories vary in quality. Unlike the first collection though, which left me unsatisfied with both the quality and number of stories included, this book not only includes more than twice the stories in Elephant Vanishes but they also range from really good to profound.

Many of the stories are just so good – such as “A Folklore for My Generation”, “Tony Takitani” and “The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day” – I kept finding myself in the predicament of deciding whether to continue reading the other stories first, or to re-read the story I’d just finished reading.

The stories Murakami writes can be considered urban fantasy, phantasmagorical accounts of odd happenings in seemingly normal and usually dull activities. When the narrator in “A ‘Poor Aunt’ Story” discovers that he has a “poor aunt” on his back, all he thinks of it was that: “…it was not an unpleasant situation. She wasn’t especially heavy. She didn’t puff bad breath across my shoulder. She was just stuck there, on my back, like a bleached shadow.” It’s a typical example of the bland reaction and near-indifference to the absurd happenings that befall the characters that inhabit Murakami’s surreal world.

The stories written later in Murakami’s writing career show a noticeable improvement over the earlier stories, when his writing style was still a little clunky, such as when he writes about what death is in “New York Mining Disaster”: “A rabbit is a rabbit whether it springs out of a hat or a wheat field. A hot oven is a hot oven, and the black smoke rising from a chimney is just that – black smoke rising from a chimney.” His earlier stories are overall quite good though, and it’s only wonderful that Murakami’s style has improved with age.

His short stories are a nod to Raymond Carver’s work, but Haruki Murakami adds a lot of his own ingredients to make his style quite unique. With his latest short story collection, Haruki Murakami maintains his reputation as master of the surreal, as well as that of the unreal.
Wonder why the editor chose to use the American cover for the image? The ISBN is for the British edition, and the ones that are currently stocked in bookstores.

Also, a review of the classic travel narrative, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin at How to Tell a Story:
While Bruce Chatwin, who was working as a journalist for the Sunday Times, was interviewing the then 93-year-old architect and designer, Eileen Gray, he noticed a map of Patagonia on her wall.

"I've always wanted to go there," he said.

"So have I," Gray replied. "Go there for me."

Chatwin immediately left for Patagonia, and when he got there he telegrammed his employers: "Have gone to Patagonia". What follows is an amazing trip, mostly journeyed on foot throughout the south of South America, and the accounts experienced there written down in Chatwin's now-classic In Patagonia.

10 comments:

  1. Congrats on your article being published, Ted.

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  2. congrats ted. we urgently need folks to write reviews because how else can we encourage the public to read. your reviews are very nicely written and i hope this will be the start of a new "career" for you.

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  3. Thanks, Sharon! I hope so too. Reviewing books is fun but it can also get very painful sometimes, especially when I don't have much of an opinion after reading a book! :D

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  4. Enjoyed reading your review. Opinions matter in reviews but make them constructively. Keep up the good work!

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  5. Thanks, Eric! I'll keep that in mind.

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  6. oops....looks like I had missed it! (that's the price for flipping and not really reading the newspaper...busy,busy, busy mah!)

    Anyway, found it later and yes, congrats! Please churn out more, ok?


    Eh, please blog banyak banyak about Payless, ok?

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  7. I was in a plane yesterday when I picked up the Star, and Ted's review was staring right at me!! It's great, Ted. So you think this book is better than his last one, right? I like reading surreal stories.

    The Star would love more reviewers, so do always volunteer your services, okay? They may not pay much but you can build a credible portfolio that way.

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  8. Yvonne: Thanks! I bought 17 books at the Payless sale and before that I got stuck in the rain in the YMCA carpark. Grugh. Shall blog about it later tonite.

    Xeus: It's better than his other collection, definitely. Am probably going to contribute more in the future... see la if they accept :)

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