MEN WITHOUT WOMEN by Haruki Murakami | Review

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.

{Goodreads.com} 

When did I read this book?: In one sitting on New Year’s Eve! So nice to end the reading year on such a high note.

Where did I read this book?: In a cozy bed–the most comfy reading location there is!

Why did I read this book?: A few of my friends and I always choose a book to read during breaks between semesters and this was our choice for our winter weeks off.

The main strengths of this short story collection can be summed up in three parts: the subject matter, Murakami’s writing style, and how he writes about the subject matter.

+ Subject matter. The title of the story collection implies a very intriguing topic in itself: What about men without women? Is this an advantage? A disadvantage? What struck me as ingenious about these stories is that none of the men are truly without women, for there are a plethora of women characters; rather, these men must go without the woman they truly desire to be with. Some are widowers, some were recently divorced, some cheat on their wives, and some discover that their wives have been cheating on them. These stories do not exude the feeling of celebration; instead, they read as a lament.

+ Writing. Since this collection was my introduction to Murakami, I had no idea what to expect from his writing style–particularly since I would be reading a translation from the original Japanese. I must admit that I’m a sucker for any writing style that for some reason clicks with me–it can completely alter my thoughts on a text–and this collection is no exception. From the first page I was captivated by the simple elegance of Murakami’s writing: not too flowery, not too choppy, not too languid, not too hurried. Personally, I feel as though writing style becomes even more important in short story collections. Apart from overarching themes or topics, the writing style is often the common thread that ties a collection together into a cohesive unit. Here Murakami strikes the perfect balance between changing his style slightly to fit the tone of each story while still maintaining the simplicity and elegance characteristic of his narrative voice.

How he writes about the subject matter. I was a bit hesitant to read this particular collection due to the nature of the subject matter. It’s fairly easy for discussions of failed or past relationships to get pretty ugly (as a semester of reading novels by Philip Roth has shown me), and reading those kinds of texts is never a good time. Reading about adultery always really bothers me, especially when it’s written about in a nonchalant way, as though the person having an affair has every right to do so. However, Murakami writes about this difficult subject matter with tact and emotion, always making the reader feel the weight and gravity of the situation. As a woman reading these stories I did not feel offended; in a strange, unexpected way, I almost felt understood.

The only major weakness of this collection that stuck out to me was the confusing nature of the story “Samsa in Love.” It seems as though another life form has entered the body of a young man for the first time, but it is unclear as to how or why this occurs. I’m sure this lack of clarity is the entire point of the story; however, it’s quite jarring to read after several stories that are fairly straightforward and clear. A bit more solidity from this story would have made it a more powerful, poignant read.

I honestly enjoyed Men Without Women a lot more than I expected to. This was my first book by Murakami, but it certainly won’t be my last!

What are your thoughts on Men Without Women? have any recommendations for what Murakami book I should read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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4 thoughts on “MEN WITHOUT WOMEN by Haruki Murakami | Review

  1. Murakami is one of my favourite writers, and I can totally relate with your pros. I recommend reading 1Q84, it was by far my favourite book written by him!

    Regarding your comment about a form of life that enters the body of a young person – this is a type of happening that you will find in other Murakamian stories, as well 🙂

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  2. Murakami is one of my favorites also, though I have not yet read his short stories. He is generally a surrealist or magical realist, so the Samsa story is not surprising; he is also a fan of Kafka (one of his novels is titled, “Kafka on the Shore), and Samsa must be a reference to “The Metamorphosis,” whose protagonist, Gregor Samsa, becomes a giant beetle overnight.

    I’m also wondering whether the collection’s title is an intentional reference to the early Hemingway collection of the same name. Now, thanks to you, I have to find it and read it!

    My favorite Murakami remains “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles,” but “1Q84” is truly a tour de force. And as a fan of noir I lived “After Dark.”

    I also recommend that, after you’ve read a bunch of Murakami novels. you try Ruth Ozeki’s homage to him, “A Tale for the Time Being,” written from a North American perspective.

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  3. I’d heard a lot about this book but I wasn’t sure whether to take the plunge or not. I haven’t read any of his other works so this will be my first. Thanks for the review I’ll be reading the book now!

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  4. I love Murakami. His writing does tend to be on the strange side (I’d say ‘Samsa in Love’ is fairly typical of him) so you have to sort of suspend belief, it’s easier with a full book like that because you sort of get used to it. My favourite is ‘Kafka on the Shore’, but if you want something less strange I’d say go for ‘Norwegian Wood’ which was the first I read and the most ‘normal’ so far

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