Thursday, April 21, 2011

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

South of the Border, West of the Sun is the most straight-forward of the Murakami books I have read (this is number five, I think)--it features no surreal elements or multiple narrators. At the heart of the book is the first-person narrator, Hajime. The book opens with Hajime describing two of his early relationships. At 12, he and Shimamoto, both only children, are inseparable; after school, they walk home (slowed by Shimamoto's bad leg) and then sit together and listen to music. When they go to different junior highs, however, they lose touch, and Hajime moves on to his high school girlfriend, Izumi, whom he betrays with her own cousin.

After eight years of a mind-numbing job with a textbook publisher, Hajime meets and marries Yukiko. Her father loans Hajime the money to open two jazz bars, which he enjoys running. Hajime and Yukiko have two children, and he is happy...or at least content.

Then Shimamoto comes into his bar, the Robin's Nest, and his childhood love for her blossoms into an adult obsession. Her appearances at the bar are sporadic and she will tell him little about her life in the 25 years since their childhood friendship ended. But his interest in her intensifies, fed in part by memories of a closeness Hajime has not felt with anyone else. When they finally spend a passionate night together, Hajime is ready to leave his wife and children for Shimamoto....but she clearly has other ideas. Hajime struggles to define who he is in the aftermath of their "affair."

While I appreciate the pull that an old love can exert, especially when one is at a phase of life when there seem to be more questions than answers, South of the Border, West of the Sun fell flat for me. Though sometimes frustrated by them, I missed the mysterious elements of Murakami's other works (the mysteries here--why Hajime's father-in-law seems to be setting him up for a fall [nothing ever comes of it] and where, with whom, and how Shimamoto lives--don't seem to matter very much), as well as the complexity of not only the plot lines but also the novels' constructions.

Favorite passage:
. . . probably is a word who weight is incalculable.

No comments:

Post a Comment