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First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami review – meditations on ageing and memory

In these underpowered short stories, the female characters are mere pretexts for male epiphany

Eight stories are told in the first person, with each narrator a man in late middle age who shares interests, such as jazz and baseball, with his author. Only one narrator is given a name: “Haruki Murakami”. Murakami, by his own account, is less interested in creating complex characters than in the interaction his characters have with the world in which he imagines them. Even so, the women in this book are remarkably less complex, less individual, than the men, existing primarily as a pretext for the male characters to find out, or fail to find out, about themselves.

The playfulness with the identity of the narrator might be more rewarding, were it not for the stretches of tepid, underpowered writing. The conversational style can be slack and cliched, speckled with reflections on philosophical questions about ageing, identity, memory and what it is to know oneself. In “The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection”, it is hard not to read “It’s true that life brings us far more defeats than victories” as merely trite. When the situation repeats of the older man, looking back at his youth, surprised by ageing, and having learned very little (an acute enough observation), the reader, too, learns very little, and might begin to conclude that these are tales of the slightly remarkable, which one would not be tempted to read more than once.

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