Reading Haruki Murakami is like sampling the Durian. For the uninitiated, the Durian is an obnoxious smelling, even more obnoxious tasting, ravaged and ugly textured fruit which is glorified as the “King of Fruits” in South East Asia. There are only two categories of homo sapiens when it comes to the Durian. Those who are totally addicted by it and the rest preferring thorough abhorrence. Over the past many decades, Murakami has whipped up storms of deliberations that dissect his style of writing; whirlpools of opinions that are both reverential and damning; and a core universal contradiction that has a few sections of his die hard fans clamouring for the Nobel to be handed to their adored author, and a diametrical segment of the population aghast by the very notion of such a happening!
This extraordinary cleave notwithstanding, there is no shard of doubt that Murakami represents the very monument of human imagination. Every work of his is a venerable tribute that is reverentially laid at the altar of the swirling imagination. From perversity to piety; metaphysical to the mundane; infidelity to treachery, his stories are wefts that are drawn through, inserted over-and-under the pantheon of the tapestry that is the human mind. “Men Without Women” is no exception. This much awaited offering which had Murakami fanatics queuing at the book shops awaiting the break of dawn, so that they could lay their hands on the very first copies of their idol, does not disappoint one bit.
A collection of stories that has at its epicentre, men who are either estranged from the company of women, or who have never known the succour and strength that could be lent by a woman, takes the reader through a magical journey leading to amongst others, dully lit bars, lazily wandering cats, a sudden proliferation of snakes bearing ominous portents, a sophisticated cosmetic surgery unit that is manned by a perennially brooding surgeon of immense competence and roiling inner intensity and a theatre personality who has his soul seen inside out by his chain smoking, hardly speaking lady chauffeur.
Infidelity colludes with impetuosity; virtues collide with vicissitudes; and revenge coalesces with remorse as the master breezes along his tried and tested path that cocks a snook at plots and leaves the conventionally accepted thematic style of prose in ruins. There are the usual metaphysical convolutions that makes interpretation an arduous exercise germinating feelings of both vexation and introspection. The title itself is a clever take from Ernest Hemingway’s collection of short stories in 1927. Murakami’s protagonists seek salvation in quietude as did Hemingway’s characters when their lives were characterized by a gaping absence of women. Both authors clothe their male characters in loneliness to fill a void which is totally incapable of being either filled or excised. Writing in a fashion that is ‘Kafkaesque’, Murakami leaves it to the reader to either redeem or damn the men who seek solace in a plaintive and unassuming fashion. This exercise of distillation takes the reader to the very end of her imagination, an end which for Murakami represents a mere beginning. Non-linear, chasing peripheries, couched in ambiguities, and blurring the contours of commencement and conclusion, “Men Without Women”, is Murakami at his inimitable and irascible best.
And as his with all his other books, “Men Without Women” is a paean to originality and a homage to thought!