Mediocre Murakami

First Person Singular
By Haruki Murakami
245 pp. Vintage. $17.

I discovered Murakami back in 2013 when I lived in Rome and came across Kafka on the Shore. It remains my favorite Murakami to this day and serves as a potent gateway drug to the rest of his work.

I read most of Murakami’s other novels in the 2-3 months following, to the point that now every time I’m holding one of his books I feel I’m back on a Roman bus on the way to teach a class of rowdy first graders.

The other thing about Murakami that takes me back to 2013 is that none of his new work has really been all that new. Both the short stories or the novels he’s completed in the time since have all felt reminiscent of Murakami’s earlier work. The themes are the same, the cats are the same, the music’s the same.

“First Person Singular” is essentially Murakami’s greatest hits, thematically speaking, except if you’ve read the others this isn’t all that great. There’s an undeniable sense of “been here, read that” throughout the eight stories featured here.

Murakami writes about the same things so frequently that at times it’s hard to distinguish Murakami from his protagonists, or his protagonists from one another. They all like jazz. And the Beatles. And baseball. They all like to pine over women and have cats that do and don’t talk to them.

I’d recommend Murakami’s last story collection, Men Without Women, over this one, particularly because one of those stories inspired Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s excellent 2021 film, “Drive My Car.” But the only one of the eight stories here that’s likely to stick is “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,” which appeared first as a piece in The New Yorker, here.

The rest are already fading from memory.

Rome … Murakami … I’ll always love both, even if it feels like their best days are behind them.


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