Haruki Murakami is one of my favourite authors but after reading all three volumes of ‘1Q84‘ when I finished my degree, I decided to take a break from his writing for a while. Somehow, two years seems to have gone by in a flash and his next novel ‘Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage’ is due to be published in the UK in August. I borrowed Murakami’s collection of short stories about the Kobe earthquake ‘after the quake’ from the library some time ago but I thought I should finally investigate the other two volumes of his short stories that I had yet to read. I recently bought ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ from a charity shop (by recently, I mean about eight months ago) and ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ has been on my shelves for some time.
The stories which stood out for me in ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ were ‘The Second Bakery Attack’ which is a darkly humorous tale of a hold-up at a McDonalds restaurant and ‘Sleep’ which is about a woman who suddenly discovers she no longer needs to sleep and doesn’t feel tired even after being awake for over two weeks. The story ‘TV People’ features an unsettling group of characters which seem to be an early precursor of the Little People in ‘1Q84’. The opening story ‘The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women’ was later developed into one of Murakami’s famous novels ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’. This collection also contains one of his most famous short stories ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning’.
‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ contains twenty-five stories, some of which were among the first of Murakami’s work to be published in Japan in the late 1970s. My favourites in this particular collection include ‘Birthday Girl’, ‘The Mirror’ and ‘The Year of Spaghetti’. Murakami writes in the introduction that some of these earlier stories have been considerably revised from the original versions. These stories also tend to be more surreal than his most recent work but all of the classic Murakami characteristics are in there somewhere: cats, beautiful ears and cooking spaghetti all feature in these sometimes aimless and always bizarre stories.
Despite being primarily known for his novels, Murakami has a real appreciation for the short story form in its own right and this is what makes the stories in ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ and ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ so enjoyable to read. There are some brilliantly surreal gems in these two collections which are a real treat for his existing fans and anyone who enjoys quirky short stories.