Monday, April 17, 2006

book review - Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

I have just begun reading Billie Livingston's new novel, Cease to Blush. So I'd better write somethig about Dance Dance Dance before I get too far away from it.

I read something by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami on the recommendation of Stephen, who is setting out to read Murakami's entire English-translated collection. I chose Dance Dance Dance because it was the one on the shelf in the Port Moody Library.

I read Dance Dance Dance in just a little over one week. This is an indication that I was captivated by it. It's pretty linear, the story of a man searching for something. It begins with a vision of an old hotel where he once stayed and the feeling that the women with whom he stayed is lost somewhere and crying for him. He is a lonely guy, kind of bumping around in a semi-successful but unsatisfying career as a writer. He takes some time off work to return to the hotel and begin the search which becomes the story in the novel. I kept reading it because I wanted to find out where he was going and what he was doing. Also I was curious about who he was. I think I read fiction mostly because of curiosity. I want to know the details of people's lives. Why is this guy the way he is? What has happened to him in his life? Why does he see things the way he sees them? What will he do? If a story satisifies that curiosity, I enjoy it. If it doesn't, I don't. The other part is emotional. I need to feel an affinity/sympathy/connection with the character. I need to understand that whatever he does or feels, I could feel that way, given the circumstances. I don't have to agree. But I do have to feel a connection. I need to feel myself rooting for the person as he makes his way through whatever happens.

Dance Dance Dance was mostly satisfying on both counts. The main character is interesting and sympathetic. The story unfolds as a series of connections as he meets the other characters: a successful movie actor, a rich novelist (either of whom could be the other side of himself - the person who he might have been or who might have been him, given different circumstances), an enigmatic hotel clerk and a lonely, precocious 13-year old girl. He also spends time in a parallel world with the Sheep Man, whose cryptic instructions help give him direction in his quest. I did root for the guy (who doesn't have name in the story). I wanted him to find out why the lost woman was calling him. I wanted him to find out why "everything is connected," something he bumps into early in the story. The theme of connectedness sticks the plot together. In the end, this mostly un-sticky guy does find personal and emotional connection, and it is mostly satisfying.

There were a few breath-taking moments in the story for me - mostly the times when he enters the mystical side-world that seems to be there to help him interpret real life. In this side world he faces some scary situations (endless darkness, people disappearing, a room filled with skeletons). His courage in this world helps illuminate the courage required just to get through everyday life in the real world. That's the lasting impression that I took away.

The parts that bothered me were: the visual shorthand style of description - lots of western pop culture references and endless descriptions of exactly what he eats at every meal and the name of the restaurant and exactly which song by which artist he is listening to on the radio or cd player. It felt like reading a movie, if that makes sense. It was clearly a purposeful choice to write like this. I just found it distracting. It didn't seem to help convey any meaning except maybe to emphasise the insignificance of our real world anchors - but it was a bit heavy handed if that was the purpose. Maybe I missed the point.

Still in all. I recommend this story. I don't think I'll rush to read more Murakami, but I will keep track of Stephen's reviews. Maybe if the Sheep Man shows up again I'll have a look.

question: what are you reading today?

mompoet - always curious

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Mompoet: It was great to read your take on this book. The Western cultural references are a cornerstone of almost all of Murakami's novels, and yes, he does get critized for it. I didn't find it quite so distracting in this case, since this is a sheltered guy who probably absorbs the most detail from things that are right in front of him. (Murakami also has a thing for clean ears. I don't know what that's all about.) The attention to food and western culture also comes up in Norweigan Wood and Kafka on the Shore. I'm going to be sensitive to it going into his other books.

Incidentally, this book is a sequel to "The Wild Sheep Chase", although from what I understnad one need not preceed the other in continuity. It's the book I'll be reading next.

PS I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for your comments on Ensler's "The Good Body". I've not attended "Vagina Monologues" but a great many people around here have.