Monday, March 29, 2010

'Dance Dance Dance' Discussion (JLit Book Group)

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Welcome to the Japanese Literature Book Group discussion of Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami.

About the Book
Dance Dance Dance (ダンス・ダンス・ダンス, Dansu dansu dansu) is Haruki Murakami's sixth novel. It was first published in Japan in 1988, and the English translation by Alfred Birnbaum was released in 1994. The book is a sequel, of sorts, to Murakami's novel A Wild Sheep Chase. In 2001, Murakami said that writing Dance Dance Dance had been a healing act after his unexpected fame following the publication of Norwegian Wood and that, because of this, he had enjoyed writing Dance more than any other novel. [Information courtesy of Wikipedia]

Dance Dance Dance
In this propulsive novel, one of the most brilliant writers at work in any language fuses science fiction, the hard-boiled thriller, and white-hot satire into a new element of the literary periodic table. As he searches for a mysteriously vanished girlfriend, Murakami's protagonist plunges into a wind tunnel of sexual violence and metaphysical dread in which he collides with call girls; plays chaperone to a lovely teenaged psychic; and receives cryptic instructions from a shabby but oracular Sheep Man. Dance Dance Dance is a tense, poignant, and often hilarious ride through the cultural mosaic that is Japan, a place where everything that is not up for sale is up for grabs. [Blurb courtesy of Random House]
Other references:
Haruki Murakami website
Read an excerpt (courtesy of Random House)
Looking for America, or Is It Japan? (Review in The New York Times)
Sushi and good red herrings (Review in The Independent)
Exorcising Ghosts

Discussion Questions:
I couldn't find any discussion or reading group guides online so we'll have to make do with some questions I came up with.  Please do jump in with any of your own questions though to help me out!

How does Dance Dance Dance compare to A Wild Sheep Chase?  Did you prefer one book over the other?  If you haven't yet read A Wild Sheep Chase, do you plan to?

Our narrator remains nameless throughout, but unlike A Wild Sheep Chase, many of the other characters in Dance Dance Dance were named? Do you think this was done on purpose?  Did this alter your reading experience?

Did you have any favourite characters, or scenes in Dance Dance Dance?

Dance Dance DanceDid your perception of the Sheep Man change? Do you think he plays a different role in Dance Dance Dance, than in A Wild Sheep Chase?
"Is there really a Sheep Man?" she asked.
"Yes, there really is," I said.  "There's a place in that hotel where he lives.  A whole other hotel in that hotel.  You can't see it most of the time.  But it's there.  That's where the Sheep Man lives, and all sorts of things connect to me through there.  The Sheep Man is kind of like my caretaker, kind of like a switchboard operator.  If he weren't around, I wouldn't be able to connect anymore."
"Huh?  Connect?"
"Yeah, when I'm in search of something, when I want to connect, he's the one who does it." (chapter 23, p. 193)
The importance of human connection is a major theme in Dance Dance Dance. What do you think Murakami is saying here about relationships, and fate?

Do you think the chapter numbers, with the black lines in various positions relative to the numbers, had any significance? How about the fact that chapter number 42 was upside down? Updated to add: At least it was in the edition I read. See below.

chapter 42 Dance Dance Dance
Vintage UK trade paperback, ISBN: 9780099448761

Who do you think the sixth skeleton represents?


Did anyone else chuckle at the name of Yuki's famous but mediocre writer father?

Any other thoughts or questions about book?

[Your Question Here...]

Dance Dance DanceI've finished reading the book (yay!) so I'll be more present for the discussion this time around.  I look forward to chatting about Dance Dance Dance with you.  Please feel free to go ahead and answer any of the questions that interest you, or comment on any aspect of the book.  If you have not yet read the book though, please be warned that comments may contain spoilers, so please proceed at your own risk.

Dance Dance Dance has been reviewed by:
Polishing Mud Balls
The Reading Life
If you've posted about Dance Dance Dance on your own blog, let me know and I'll add the link here. 



The small print:  Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

14 comments:

  1. I'm halfway through this, but I'll finish it in time for March 29 (which I had down for the discussion date). I'll try to answer the questions that you posted here, although with Murakami, who knows what the right answer is? Is there a right answer? It'll be fun to talk about, that I know for certain!

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  2. AGH! What an idiot I am! It IS the 29th! Shows what Spring Break does to this teacher! I'll hurry up, and get back to you as soon as possible. I did copy and paste these questions into a draft on my blog, now I'll go back to the couch and finish the book!

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  3. Though I found "Dance Dance Dance" to be unlike "A Wild Sheep Chase" in style and tone, I don't think I can choose one over the other, in terms of enjoyment. And the only 'standard' Murakami element that seems to be missing in "Dance" (that was in "Chase") is the theme of the effects of war on individuals.I enjoyed them both and about the same as each other.

    I'm sure the naming of characters but not the narrator) was done on purpose -- perhaps leaving him unnamed serves to make him more 'universal.' It did not, however, alter my reading experience in any way, except to note that once again the narrator did not have a name! :)

    My favorite scenes were probably the ones between the narrator and Yuki. The dialogue between the two had me chuckling out loud at times. It was also clever and thought-provoking.

    My perception of the Sheep Man definitely changed when I read the passage you quoted. That's not at all how I thought of him in "Chase."

    One thing I think Murakami is saying about relationships is how distant and disconnected they can become when you're living in an 'advanced-capitalist' society, as he calls it.

    I didn't even notice the placement of numbers and the lines! I had to go back just now to see them. And 42 is not upside down in my copy.

    I'm not sure but I think the 6th skeleton represents the narrator himself -- the eternal reminder that we all will die one day.

    I did chuckle at the name of Yuki's father! In fact, as soon as I read it, I showed my son. Very funny.

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  4. First off, I posted a review of Dance Dance Dance on my blog. You can read my review here

    I loved Dance Dance Dance. While I really liked A Wild Sheep Chase, Dance Dance Dance brought me into the story from the first page, and held me throughout the whole read which I cannot say that for A Wild Sheep Chase! This time, even though the narrator remained nameless, I felt connected to him.

    I absolutely loved the scenes between the narrator and Yuki. I really think those scenes were poignant, and also light-hearted.

    The chapter numbers, with the black lines in different positions. All I can say is, I noticed this, and I did not give it much thought. Do you think there was significance here? Oh...42 is not upside down in my copy.

    I am not a deep reader, meaning, I usually do not search for underlining meanings while I am reading. I do that, but usually only with the stories I am re-reading. So, for this book...I realized that human connection was a major theme...one of the reasons why I liked this book so much...but I did not really dig into wondering what Murakami was trying to truly convey with the theme beyond the obvious...we all need a human connection, a sincere one.

    I noticed that we did not find out what the sixth skeleton represented. Part of me was thinking that it could be the narrator himself...could be him if he did not learn how to dance, to loosen up what he holds onto so tightly...loosen up and make connections.

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  5. Bellezza - LOL. Well, losing track of time due to being on break is a nice reason. :)
    I don't think with Murakami there ever is a "right" answer, but it definitely is fun to talk about. Hope you enjoy the rest of the book.

    Teresa - Right when I finished 'Dance', I felt that I had liked 'Sheep' a little better, but now that it's been a couple of days, I can't decide any more. I guess I liked both of them differently.

    I agree with you on the Sheep Man. That's not at all how I'd thought of him in 'Sheep' but looking back, he did act as a guide then too, to help the narrator connect with The Rat.

    The term "advanced capitalism" showed up quite a few times in various conversation the narrator had. Isolation and disconnectedness certainly seems to be a theme that Murakami keeps coming back to. And other contemporary Japanese authors for that matter, like the other Murakami - Ryu Murakami.

    That's what I wondered too, whether the sixth skeleton represented the narrator. That eventually he would join the others that had died before him.

    Yuki's father's name as an anagram of Haruki Murkami - very funny indeed. Was this another rebellion against the instant fame he got from Norwegian Wood??

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  6. ibeeeg - Even without a name, I really came to like the narrator too, having spent most of the month with him. :)

    The scenes between the narrator and Yuki were some of my favourite too. I loved their friendship.

    Reading yours and Teresa's comments made me wonder if I'd been seeing things, but no, in my copy the number 42 is indeed upside down. I took a quick photo which I've added to the post above. As proof. :)

    I'm not a very deep reader either. I was never very good at digging out the hidden symbolism in English lit class back in the day. lol. And I like taking away what I will from a story without worrying whether it was the author's grand design. That said, I think the message about everyone needing a human connection is important whether it's obvious here or not.

    mel u - Thanks for the link to your review. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book.

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  7. Tanabata - I believed you that your chapter 42 was upside down.
    I see yours is a UK edition, mine is not. ;)

    I agree with you, everyone needs human connection is an important message, and that did come across clearly in this book. I like obvious messages. :)

    Now that you say that you feel the Sheep Man was acting as a guide to the narrator to find The Rat in A Wild Sheep Chase...I thought about it and can see that now too. Interesting how when you read a book, you do not see something. Then you read another book which points into a direction to see something about the other book....I find that interesting. That does happen with me, OR it happens after I have a bit of time to reflect upon the read. Most times though, it usually happens with a re-read.

    I am glad you chose books by Murakami for us to read. I am glad to have read a few of his books. I will go on to read more as I think he is now one of my favorite authors.

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  8. I enjoyed reading your review, ibeeg. And was inspired by your quoting of favorite passages to quote my own:

    from Chapter 16: The narrator is speaking to Yuki about his job: "... it was me who screwed it up. I do it one by one, nice and neat. I find what's pure and clean and see that it gets all mucked up. But that's what people call information. And when you dredge up every bit of dirt from every corner of the living environment, that's what you call enhanced information."

    From Chapter 23, another conversation between the 2, and this one just because it made me laugh out loud: Yuki: "Boy, are you a dolt! ... For your information, 13-year-old girls already wear bras. You're half a century behind, I swear!" "I'm only 34," I reminded her." "Fifty years," said Yuki. "Time flies when you're a dolt!"

    And in Chapter 37 I loved yet another conversation between the 2 because I can so relate to what the narrator is talking about when he says: "It's not a matter of like or dislike ... I guess I'm just not interested in it."

    Now on to read the review at The Reading Life!

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  9. Finally, I finished the book and my post. Thanks for this wonderful read along, Tanabata, I can't wait to read the comments more carefully, and the posts which have been written, now that I've completed it.

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  10. I like Dance, Dance, Dance, better than Sheep. I do not know why.

    One of my favorite scenes ise Yuki and the protagonist driving a rent a car without any purpose singing together.

    Another fav is the poet (without an arm?) and the protagonist went to a beach and talked and he fell asleep and felt sorry that he was not listening more sincerely.

    Another one is the protagonist cooking at home for Gotanda-kun.

    BTW, I have not re-read this book for a while, so I am writing this from a memory.

    I also like the scenes in Hawaii. In his travelogue in Europe, Murakami said he wrote this scene while staying a a very shabby apartment (in Italy?) and the heater was not working. He wish he could be in Hawaii and he wrote about it.

    I always enjoy your website. Thank you.

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  11. I was fascinated throughout the book with the chapter numbers and the lines. Chapter one had the line under the number one which was centered on the page. After that the lines and chapter numbers changed position, relative reciprocal distances and angle constantly, until the last chapter, forty-four in my copy: The last chapter had the number centered again and the line was underneath, exactly like the first one - but wider. I think this neat little aside symbolises the total havoc the narrator's life underwent from the beginning of the book until the end, where he returns to "normal" and has sorted out all the mysteries of the plot. And the line being wider symbolises the fact that he has grown, has received added value to his life from his experiences since the start of his journey.

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  12. I just finished the book an hour ago and as usual Murakami leaves so much to be discussed I had to find someone to talk to about the whole experience.

    My favourite character was Gotanda, I loved the way the narrator described him. The silly metaphors about the lighting of a bunsen burner akin to an olympic opening ceremony and aristocratic urination made me laugh out loud on several occassions. Gotanda himself was caught up in a web he couldn't escape, sometimes I feel like that too so I could relate, except I know that quitting isn't an option. I felt that Gotanda handled the events that befell him nonchalantly in a laid back but dignified manner and hence his death came as quite a shock to me.

    I recognised the anagram in Yuki's Father's name instantly, perhaps Murakami himself felt washed up at the time.

    The upside down 42 was probably there to highlight the fact that the chapter in question was set in another reality.

    To me the sixth skeleton represented that of the narrator it disappeared because he finally finished the circuit destiny had laid out for him, had he stopped dancing things may have ended differently. Perhaps all of the skeletons had somehow stopped dancing - Dick North (gave up on his life at home. Mei a prostitute who could have harboured much higher aspirations. Kiki a successful ear model turned prostitute. Gotanda - gave up on trying to escape the celebrity lifestyle he hated so much.

    I've noticed many people liked Yuki as a character, while I felt she was quirky and the exchanges she shared with the narrator were funny, she was a very unrealistic character in my eyes, she hated her mother for being self obsessed while without realising it she herself was a mirror image of her mother. Throughout the book I disapproved of her hypocrisy - the narrator even lectured her about it at one point regarding the death of Dick North.

    Unfortunately I have not yet read A Wild Sheep Chase, this was my sixth Murakami novel, my favourite still remains - The Wind up Bird Chronicle -

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