Haruki Murakami's short story collection 'First Person Singular' has been translated into English and has been available since April. The author is known for popular novels like 'Norwegian Wood' and 'Kafka On The Shore'.
This collection of short stories will take you on a series of Murakami journeys. His short stories, just like his novels, bring out life's inherent oddity and a sense of unpredictability.
Murakami can find unworldliness in the most common scenarios that we usually take for granted.
The stories are like a puzzle, where the reader will ponder and bask in the mysterious world Murakami creates rather than try to solve it. In 'First Person Singular', the characters have strange experiences, traits, or they come across something strange.
In the last short story in the series, the character has a 'Guilty Pleasure' of walking in fancy suits for no particular reason.
Similarly, in 'Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,' the narrator talks to a monkey with an eccentric love for women.
Murakami has not strayed away from his signature style in this series. The short story collection is classic Murakami, with several recurring themes - jazz, classical music, Beatles, baseball, and memories of confused adolescent love.
Surprisingly, the cats prominent in 'Kafka On The Shore' or the 'Windup Bird Chronicle' are infrequent in this series.
There are eight stories in the collection and almost each raises a question, and sometimes existential concerns, about perception, memory, and the meaning of life.
But there are never answers or solutions, and just like the narrator, the reader also ponders on the events he has experienced.
The majority of his unnamed narrators sound alike. Their stories frequently begin with hazy recollections of a perplexing relationship.
In the short story 'With The Beatles,' the main character reminisces on how a gorgeous girl passed only once through his high school corridor in 1964, clutching a Beatles album against her, which he used to assess his desirability for other women.
A year later, he met his first girlfriend but later broke up because she did not ring 'that unique bell' for him.
Years later, he runs into her older brother, who is as surprised as he is about what happened to the sister he barely knew.
My personal favourite was the sixth story, 'Carnaval', where the lead character has a friendship with a woman named 'F*' based on a shared musical passion, specifically the love for a piano piece called 'Carnaval Schumann'.
The other fact that the lead character points out is that his friend F* is very unattractive or as he dubs her, 'ugly'.
While the main character cannot realise what makes her unattractive and ugly, he goes into this inner monologue about Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina', "All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its way."
"In contrast, ugly women each carry around their own individual version of a shaggy monkey. There are small but significant differences in their monkeys—how worn their fur is, where their fur has thinned out, how dirty they are. There is no brilliance at all, so unlike the golden-haired monkeys, our eyes are not dazzled by them." (Pg. 86)
A startling revelation at the end of the story for the main character will demonstrate how limited our knowledge of most individuals is.
The way Murakami ends will show that it is more the characters' thoughts that are important for this author.
'Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,' on the other hand, is a piece that will appeal to readers who are drawn to Murakami's surrealist turns.
It is also a short story that will give many readers a taste of what his larger novels revolve around in this world, which blurs the line between dreams and reality.
When a writer staying in a run-down inn in a hot springs town is expertly cared for by an elderly, eloquent monkey, he is astounded.
The monkey claims to have been reared by a college professor in Shinagawa, Tokyo, which explains his sophisticated vocabulary and tastes, including a preference for ladies over primates and a passion for Bruckner's symphonies.
After reading book after book from Murakami since 2014, I have made my yearly visit to his world. His narrators captivate us with tales of strange events that, with the passing of time, stay 'permanently unexplained'.
These stories, mostly told from the main character's perspective, give readers the chase to experience a feeling of detachment from the world.
Murakami's stories have been dubbed 'magical realism', but it is up to the readers to decide whether to label his stories.
These stories or events occur almost with a feeling of 'déjà vu', but not to the extreme of a hallucinatory tale.
'First person singular' is a great addition to reading more of Murakami and even a good first book to look into the world of Haruki Murakami.
Murakami has been a fan favourite for winning the Nobel Prize for literature many times, and this year, 2021, many people hope to see him finally taking the prize.
Murakami has been awarded in 2016, the 'Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award' in Danish, the 'JK Rowling Award' and the 'Jerusalem Prize'.
Even though he disapproves of the way awards are given, he still deserves to be recognised for his contribution to literature and a whole generation - both inside and outside Japan - whom he has inspired.