First Person Singular is an anthology of eight short stories by one of my all time favourite authors, Haruki Murakami. Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, all stories are told in first-person narrative rich with Murakami’s signature storytelling. Some of the stories have been featured in The New Yorker magazine before. I received this book as a gift from my friend. She knows I’m a huge fan of Murakami. I truly appreciate her for sending me this from oversea in this difficult time.
Short stories in this book constitutes unique Murakami’s elements of jazz and classical music, literature, arts and philosophical ideas. In classic Murakami style, he has blurred the lines between fantasy and reality in his stories with dreamlike events and mind-bending mystery. Intertextuality is, as usual, heavy in his stories with music, novels, and baseball. Although most of the stories are alluring with his ingenious narrative, I find a couple of the dull and parenthetical with the narrator rambling most of the time.
Another issue I have in some stories is his representation of women which I was previously unaware of in his books. After reading his interview with Mieko Kawakami on Lit Hub, I’ve become to notice the way he depicts female characters. I, at first, say that Murakami’s an intuitive writer who doesn’t create characters based on gender. Whether they are protagonist or supporting roles, he portrays the characters based on human characteristics. I haven’t read new book or revisited old books by him at that time. When I read this book, with that interview conversations in my mind, I see from a different perspective. It’s like the fog has lifted. He may want to share the view of a male character and he probably doesn’t create characters based on current sociopolitical trends. But I can’t argue that some of his inappropriate portrayals of female characters are both disturbing and offensive.
“Inexplicable, illogical events that nevertheless are deeply disturbing. I guess we need to not think about them, just close our eyes and get through them.”— Cream, Haruki Murakami
My absolute favourite in this book is the first story, Cream (featured in the New Yorker). I immensely love it as the story is very relatable. Not in the sense that the bizarre occurrence has happened to me before. It is true that there are some unexplainable and incomprehensible things happened in life. And as human, we tend to ask question on these events and look for the answers. It’s more frustrating when things end abruptly with no plausible reasons and if you need a closure for that, it’s rational. However, when you have encountered such events multiple times in your life, you get familiar with them as you age. Sometimes, you’re able to subside the urge to look for the answers. Turning a blind eye to the mysteries or unanswered issues in our life won’t be as troubling like it used to be. Going to bed not knowing the answer is possible cause it is easier for you and you’ve become comfortable with it.
The other stories I enjoyed reading in this book are Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova, With the Beatles and Confessions of A Shinagawa Monkey. It is a joy to read for Murakami fans but I wouldn’t recommend it for those who haven’t read hits work before. It wasn’t a phenomenal read like his other anthologies—Men Without Women, or The Elephant Vanishes.