Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Haruki Murakami

Books rated three out of five are always hard to review. Anything higher and I can tell you why you should drop everything you’re doing and head to the bookstore; anything lower, and I can give you a good laugh. But three – three is tough.

Truth is, I almost DNF’d this one. But I drudged through it until I finally reached the last page. I am not rejoicing exactly that I changed my mind, nor am I saying it was a mistake. I am just rather blah about it.

Actually I am rather blah about the whole book.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a collection of 24 short stories. Out of these, I really enjoyed Crabs, Hanelei Bay, Seventh Man, and the one with the Sharpie Crows. Seventh Man gives you that eerie feeling up the back of your neck that you can’t quite shake off. Crabs was written so well that while reading it, I nearly threw up. That’s probably the wrong way to tell you that it was a good read, but believe me, if you like to (to put it delicately) read unpleasant stuff, then Crabs is simply brilliant.
Also, it is one of the few stories in the book that had a definite outline, a proper conclusion. Which brings me to my next point:

Some people say Murakami’s stories have elements of magical realism. If you have read Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Salman Rushdie, you’ll know how seamlessly magic blends into the story, without seeming out of place. On the other hand, Murakami’s stories, (when I say “stories”, I mean this edition alone, not any of his other work) do not seem to contain magical realism. They do not even seem surreal. They seem vaguely unreal, that’s all. Removed from reality, but not so subtly as to blend in. For example, in the last story, The Shinagawa Monkey, when the monkey begins to talk, I laughed. It was a serious story, dealing with topics like suicide, yet the insertion of a talking monkey made me laugh.

Before the above paragraph, I mentioned my next point was going to be about definite outlines. But it was not. Did that annoy you? Yeah, that happens a lot in this book. Imagine a set of colorful threads laid out. Each one leads to a conclusion. You clutch at quite a few, follow them, but in the end, an empty grey one is all there is, with no sign of the ones you clutched. Where did those beautiful threads go? No idea! You’re just hung out there to dry. Like a huge wave carried you on its crest pleasantly for a while then dropped you without a warning.

Too many metaphors in that passage above? The book suffers from that too. Too many extended metaphors. And too many inane dialogues that need not have been there at all. For instance, in the story with the kangaroos, the girlfriend is just frighteningly annoying. Really, who asks such silly questions! Even if she did, for the sake of a story, not every dialogue needs to be put down.

Final word on this book is (actually this review is in reverse. You already know what my rating is!) that you can read it for the beginnings and the middles of each story. By the ends though, if you feel you are lurching in the dark, well, I don’t know, I felt the same way.

Rating: 3/5

You can get it online on Flipkart, Amazon, or at offline stores.

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14 thoughts on “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Haruki Murakami

  1. I know how everyone gushes about the author but honestly I haven't gotten around to reading him yet… a part of me keeps thinking I should start today, I should start today. Well, now I have to wonder again … because what you said doesn't really sound like a style of writing I would enjoy much..

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  2. You know I can't honestly tell you “Read it” or “Don't read it”.He definitely has a writing style that is sort of unique and it seems to click with some people and not with others. The endings are definitely vague. So vague that I began to question if I was missing something. Because why would a story just end like that, so abruptly.
    But still, there might be parts you enjoy. On the other hand, everyone who gushes about him is I think gushing about Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore. Maybe start with those?

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  3. I love Murakami…from what I have read till now…those being Wind up Bird, Kafka and Norwegian…and his non fiction one on running. If anyone is new to this author I would advice to start with Wind up…though all his novels have quite the same pattern – too many metaphors and a grey thread that frustrates you till the end. I like that his books are open to interpretations of your own, and that they are at times so weird that it leaves you unsatisfied…craving for an answer.(maybe you think I am being weird now ;))

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  4. Wind up Bird, huh? Might give it a try.
    Actually I like metaphors, and I prefer authors who use good ones, but when I read these stories with multiple metaphors to describe one thing or one metaphor to describe multiple things, I didn't like it much.
    The grey frustrating thread is my biggest issue. I kept thinking what and why!
    Naww! It's all a matter of taste (in the case of books like these, I mean). That's why even in my comment above, I've mentioned his books click with some people and not with others.

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  5. Even I am baffled by Murakami. I am pretty sure that I would not enjoy the writing style. It sure is different, but is it good? I doubt if I would be able to answer that.

    Just like Nabokov. I picked up 'Lolita' out of curiosity and haven't got past the first few pages. The writing style is so weird that I have no interest to pick it up. Although the gist of it wants me to read it to know what happens to the little girl in the end. But the writing is too tedious to put myself through.

    I think Murakami would be exactly like that. Salman Rushdie is the king of such writing though. Unpleasant writing, to put it delicately just like you said.

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  6. These days I'm bumping into too many coincidences. This is one author I've been meaning to read for ever and I was wondering who i should ask about where to start. And Lo! I have it here. Going by your review I don't think he's my kind of an author. I like my stories to go somewhere. Maybe I'll check out just the one book Aditi recommended above – just so I can see first hand what he's all about. I am so glad you brought this up Sreesha.

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  7. I HAVE to read this author. Still have not been able to lay my hands on his book. I have been meaning to read Kafka on the Shore for long now. Will check out this one too as your review has piqued my interest further in his books!

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  8. Murakami is better than Nabokov. It's apples and oranges, actually, but my comparison is based on the fact that Lolita was something I threw across the room whereas I plowed through this one with no violent reactions to it. I took about a year to finish Lolita and I read a bunch of books in between. Then I picked up Ada or Ardor. That was 2008, and I've read about 4 pages.
    Murakami's writing style on the other hand, it isn't half as tedious, it's just… not set in reality. Very dreamlike, in a confusing way.

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  9. I would love to hear the other coincidences that have been happening to you, TS! 🙂
    You know, he isn't entirely the “Give him a miss” because that style is just truly unique. At least to study that, maybe give him a try. Who knows, he might click with you!

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  10. I have seen mixed reviews for Haruki Murakami. But I know, I cannot do too much in the mental stuff. I would rather read a book which makes me feel good. The talking monkey you mentioned is a complete put off. As you say, it does sound forced. Let me keep off him for few more years.

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    1. I know! That story was such a let down! It talked about a girl who committed suicide – there was some mystery around it, but we never got to deal with it. But the other stories I’ve mentioned – though there were no definite plotlines – were good; something creepy about them…

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