Friday, 10 April 2009

South of the Border, West of the Sun - Haruki Murakami

Read: October 2007

Having spent his 20’s drifting about lonely and in search of himself, Hajime has found love and security with his wife and two young daughters. He runs two successful jazz bars and spends his days keeping fit and taking his children to and from school. But he is haunted by the memory of the girls he first loved: Shimamoto, a fellow only child with whom he lost touch when he moved to high school, and Itsumi, a girl whose heart he broke when he was seventeen. Then, out of nowhere, Shimamoto appears in his bar, beautiful and mysterious, as if plucked straight from his memories and Hajime is forced to choose between his past and his present.

More reminiscent of Sputnik Sweetheart or Norwegian Wood than Wind-up Bird Chronicle or Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, South of the Border, West of the Sun is a simple, sweet love story set against the background of personal self discovery. As with everything Murakami there is the familiar otherworldlyness to the plot, the fantastical mixing almost invisibly with the everyday. In my opinion he is at his most poignant when this otherworldlyness is combined with the longing of a love story; when it seems that the emotions of the characters are too powerful to be contained and must explode forth in any way possible. This surrealism can thus be read both literally and metaphorically as the externalisation of emotional frailty which knows no boundaries and cannot be contained in just one place. This emotional vulnerability sums up Murakami’s well meaning loaners and individuals in search of themselves. It was most exquisitely realised in Sputnik Sweetheart and although this is not quite as good, South of the Border, West of the Sun remains a beautiful novel, well worth a few hours reading.

When each and every book he writes has the same basic characters and the same atmosphere, how does he maintain the suspense and readers interest? Haruki Murakami continues to amaze me with his timeless style and beautifully subtle stories. His is a special talent and his prose remains sublime even in translation, which says much for the simple symmetry of his writing. When I am stuck for what to read next one of his books invariably jumps out at me, offering such a satisfying and tactile haven of retreat it is impossible to refuse. Murakami thinks the things you think, listens to the music you listen to and reads the books you have read. You can almost reach out and touch his fiction, it is so immediate and familiar. And he renders this all in such simple beauty that it fairly breaks your heart. If you have not discovered Murakami yet, you should make it your number one priority.

7.5 out of 10

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