Saturday, January 19, 2008

'The Elephant Vanishes'

by Haruki Murakami
Fiction/short stories, written between 1980-1990,
copyright 1993, trade pb, Vintage UK, 318 p.
translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin
Salon Interview with Murakami
When a man’s favourite elephant vanishes, the balance of his whole life is subtly upset; a couple’s midnight hunger pangs drive them to hold up a McDonald’s; a woman finds she is irresistible to a small green monster that burrows through her front garden; an insomniac wife wakes up to a twilight world of semi-consciousness in which anything seems possible – even death. In every one of the stories that make up The Elephant Vanishes, Murakami makes a determined assault on the normal. He has a deadpan genius for dislocating realities to uncover the surreal in the everyday, the extraordinary in the ordinary.
When I first started reading Murakami I just didn’t get it. It took me a few tries before I could enjoy his surrealistic style and the ambiguous endings. I still think I need to be in the right mood for his stuff but when I am, what fun. I really enjoyed this collection of stories. There was spaghetti, some cats, a couple of missing wives, a dancing dwarf, an elephant factory and Noboru Watanabe showed up a few times, just to mention a few. There are certainly some themes that he can’t seem to help but keep returning to and it was interesting to read the short story that spawned The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Some of the stories were more realistic but even the more bizarre ones sucked me in from the beginning. His way of describing even the little details made the stories come alive whether of this realm of consciousness or not. This collection had been on my shelves for quite some time. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it and I look forward to reading more by Murakami in the future.

My Rating: 4/5
(#2 for 2008, Japanese Literature Challenge #3, What's in a Name Challenge - 'Animal')


  1. I know what you mean about needing to be in the right mood to enjoy his stories. I didn't know The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was originally a short story! I really look forward to reading it. The whole collection sounds great!

  2. I've only read the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I loved it. I agree, you have to be in the right kind of mood for his books.

    I'm glad you "found" my blog again! I realized last week that there was a problem with the links to it, and it looks like I fixed it.

  3. more spag by muri ;-) ?! this one sounds good though

  4. Thanks for the Murakami review. The last one I read by him was "South of the Border, West of the Sun," (much more accessible than others, much less surreal) and I do plan to read more, so am always looking out for that 'next' one.

  5. Nymeth- It's essentially the first scene, the making of spaghetti when the phone rings etc. Interesting that it started with that simple idea and ended up such a dense book.

    Nyssaneala- Wind-up Bird.. was a good book. I'd read a couple before but that was the one where I actually started to enjoy his style.

    Cathrine- yup, more spaghetti! He does seem to have an obsession with it. :)

    Teresa- I'll have to read South of the Border, West of the Sun someday once I've read the ones I already have. Accessible is always good.

    Janet- Any favourites?

  6. He must be one sphagetti lover, I guess! Reminds me of his story 'Year of Sphagetti' in 'Blind willow SW'. Nice review. Actually, I saw a different paperback cover with a little elephant flying up in the air! I loved it...I'll read this for sure.

  7. Happy Reader- Spaghetti and cats sure seem to appear often in his stories. :)
    This was the UK paperback version, I think the flying elephant one is the US cover. I'm looking forward to reading Blind Willow... sometime soon.

  8. This does sound good! I need to get around to trying this author. Thanks for the review, Tanabata.

  9. I'm relieved to hear you say that at first you just didn't get Murakami, or his ambiguous endings. I can see that while he is an excellent writer, he is a bit tricky for a Westerner such as myself. I'll continue to read his works though because they are fascinating.

  10. Literary Feline- A few of his stories can be found online, which might be a good place to start as I know he's not for everyone. This page has a few if you're interested.

    Bellezza- Oh, Murakami and I did not get along very well the first couple of tries. I was clinging to reality and found the stories absurd. Silly me! :P
    I'm glad I tried again though as now I quite enjoy his stuff. Maybe not everything but I'm much more receptive to it. Like an acquired taste.


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