South of the Border, West of the Sun * Haruki Murakami * Book Review

I really like Murakami’s longer novels as he has the time to spin off different traits and plot lines and create interesting characters. This is a short story. It’s about a selfish man, single child, who fell in love with a girl when he was twelve but then lost contact with her when he moved away. He then gets a girlfriend but then cheats on her and then gets married and then cheats on her too. Do you see a repeating pattern?

Hajime was friendless as a child and when he grows up, due to wise investments made with his father-in-law’s advice, he is really well off. He has two night clubs and a loving wife and children. He feels like he has everything but he still feels a hollow in his life.

south-of-the-border-west-of-the-sun

“No matter where I go, I still end up me. What’s missing never changes. The scenery may change, but I’m still the same incomplete person. The same missing elements torture me with a hunger that I can never satisfy. I think that lack itself is as close as I’ll come to defining myself.”

When Shimamoto re-appears in his life, well dressed and with a mysterious background, he is ready to abandon everything just to be with her again.

“I was always attracted not by some quantifiable, external beauty, but by something deep down, something absolute. Just as some people have a secret love for rainstorms, earthquakes, or blackouts, I liked that certain undefinable something directed my way by members of the opposite sex. For want of a better word, call it magnetism. Like it or not, it’s a kind of power that snares people and reels them in.”

After they make awkward sex (I call it awkward as all the scenes are not what you would expect in an erotic novel but described as such), she disappears and he goes back to his wife who finds out everything. He is unsure about what to do about his life but then decides to stick with his wife and children and continue his life…

Yukiko, the wife, is a pale presence in the book. She is mentioned just twice during the 6 year marriage to Hajime and she only steps up as a character in the novel when Hajime confesses he cheated. She forgives him and is even willing to desert him if that would please him.

“I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”

This book was a bore. 2/5 with some interesting aspects regarding single-child families and the culture in Japan post the second world war – when the government was actively pushing population growth.

The essence of this book is that “All things with form can vanish at any moment, but emotion abides”, an admirable enough concept but bland nonetheless. The protagonist of this book is clearly a stand-in for Murakami, and is numbingly dull. He’s a “successful” family man who likes jazz and to have his balls licked, not much of a Curriculum Vitae that, so it’s augmented with a fixation on a girl he was friends with when he was 12. Granted, this is the “meat” (or rather tofu) of the plot, and is sweet and somewhat moving as it morphs through the vicissitudes of his life, though some of its impact was lost on me because now I don’t quitebelieve Murakami. I don’t believe he’s in touch with an inner purity aglow with a spiritual innocence. I don’t believe his romantic idealism. I don’t believe in the transcendence of his imagination. I don’t believe there are women who like to lick his balls. And not believing these things about him substantially lessened the impact of the main character’s final transformation into the first stages of a complete and interesting being.

Which begs the question – who wants to read a book whose main character doesn’t become interesting until after the final word?

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