First Person Singular

Haruki Murakami
First Person Singular Cover

First Person Singular: Stories


I am at the stage now with Murakami where I am beginning to feel like one of his characters. Sometimes I am not sure if I am always enjoying what I am reading now but I know I will always go back to his writing and pick up anything new that he releases.

At one time I would have said that Murakami was my favourite writer, but reading his most recent works I feel like I am putting on a comfortable pair of slippers I really like, listening to music that I know well and always enjoy but not necessarily finding anything new or exciting. It is an overwhelmingly pleasant experience, but not exactly one that is expanding my horizons or taking me to places I have never been before - and yet this is what I have always taken from Murakami - a starting point in the mundane, the boring, the trivial that leads to an exploration of the fantastical, the allegory, the philosophical.

First Person Singular is a series of short stories written in the first person and all intimating a relationship with the author looking back at things in his life. Whilst it isn't explicitly stated the person is Murakami, there is enough in here to make one believe it is him, whilst knowing that we are reading fiction. I kind of love that blending of fiction and reality, that playfulness that Murakami puts in his writing. We're in on the joke and smiling with him. Indeed, one story refers to the guilt of embellishing a CV and yet this whole collection is the author picking up on a thread or an idea and running with it whilst we all join in.

Overall the collection is good, but my standards with Murakami are high and really only one story blew me out of the water (and incidentally, this is the closest to the magical realism we know Murakami for) - 'Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey'. The premise that the author has a beer with a talking monkey in a hotel and how the monkey deals with his love for human women.

The usual themes are here - boring, average men with middling grades, jazz and classical music, baseball, getting older, death and of course affection and dating when young. A couple of stories talk of young affection and one image in a story absolutely captivated me - the author seeing a girl in school carrying a Beatles album and never seeing her again. I think almost every reader would be able to identify with the feeling, when we see someone, or briefly meet someone and our heart yearns for them, and whether it is but a glance or a chance conversation, that moment in time is captured forever because we will never see them again. Those moments are special because they are fleeting, because they only exist as a point in time no matter what happens next. They are the people we did not share our life with and thus only encapsulate a moment. Yeah, 'With the Beatles' got to me....

'Carnaval' has one of the most problematic opening lines in a story I have ever read and I can definitely see why this story and broader concerns about misogyny come from. I am finding more and more that I am bothered by Murakami's depictions of women. However, as offensive as the opening line is I would say the story is worth persevering with. It is far deeper than the 'beautiful / ugly / on the inside / outside' dichotomies, it is about the masks we wear, it is about what we present to the world and how we view other people. As off putting as the opening line was I found myself agreeing by the end of the story.

Overall, there is a decent collection here. It will definitely appeal to Murakami fans but it isn't his best work by some stretch. I don't think it is an accessible starting point for others.