... brilliant ... One can feel him easing up in the eight stories collected in First Person Singular, allowing his own voice—or what sounds like his own voice, wonderfully translated by Philip Gabriel—to enter the narratives, creating a confessional tone that reminded me of Alice Munro’s late work ... Murakami is not popular throughout the world because he consciously integrates Western ideas and language into his fiction, but because his work—fueled by a tension with his forebears—fuses cultures, or perhaps leaps over them, defying time, beating like pop songs, touching universal nerves ... That’s how Murakami’s stories often roll, luring us into strange moments, making us ask the questions we once chewed on about life, about what it means to bear the burden of selfhood, about how time seems to bend around us like the wind around the trees—invisible but clearly active ... As a short story writer myself, I feel my own acute inability to urge the reader to spend time with this collection, to purchase a sequence of brief experiences that will not, as a novel might, immerse them in the hours of a steadily unfurling narrative. But these are flickering, quick times, and what a story can do that a novel can’t is pull us into the intricate motions of a single instant, expansive on both ends—the before of everything before the narrative begins, and the infinite future beyond the terminal sentences—and, like a song, or a poem, leave us wanting to reread, to rehear the voice, to relocate the pinpoint in the map of our lives.
... a blazing and brilliant return to form ... a taut and tight, suspenseful and spellbinding, witty and wonderful group of eight stories ... there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. The stories echo with Murakami’s preoccupations. Nostalgia and longing for the charged, evocative moments of young adulthood. Memory’s power and fragility; how identity forms from random decisions, 'minor incidents,' and chance encounters; the at once intransigent and fragile nature of the 'self.' Guilt, shame, and regret for mistakes made and people damaged by foolish or heartless choices. The power and potency of young love and the residual weight of fleeting erotic entanglements. Music’s power to make indelible impressions, elicit buried memories, connect otherwise very different people, and capture what words cannot. The themes become a kind of meter against which all the stories make their particular, chiming rhythms ... The reading experience is unsettled by a pervasive blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality, dream and waking ... Most of the narrators foreground the act of telling and ruminate on the intention behind and effects of disclosing secrets, putting inchoate impulses, fears, or yearnings into clear, logical prose ... This mesmerizing collection would make a superb introduction to Murakami for anyone who hasn’t yet fallen under his spell; his legion of devoted fans will gobble it up and beg for more.
The book, while emblematic of [Murakami's] short work in particular, doesn't break new ground like his recent novels, 1Q84 and Killing Commendatore, but it's an enjoyable read that goes down easily ... Murakami's plainspoken short stories, like his more complex novels, raise existential questions about perception, memory, and the meaning of it all — though he's the opposite of heavy-handed, and rarely proposes answers ... There are a few missteps in this collection, including a tedious disquisition on ugly versus beautiful women in a story about a friendship with a homely woman based on a shared musical passion. A surprising revelation again highlights how superficial our knowledge of most people is ... But 'Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey' is a standout that will appeal especially to readers enchanted by Murakami's surrealist turns, which blur the line between dreams and reality ... From his fans' perspective, of course, and on the further evidence of this winning collection, Murakami hasn't had to swallow much defeat ...
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 ... There is a point in each story where the narrator scrutinises and judges the attractiveness of a woman or girl with a disquieting urgency and an unexamined sense of entitlement. Such a gaze is never turned on the narrator, and only rarely, and comedically, on the men ... The last story is the most taut and unsettling ... In the final line of the book, the narrator recalls [a woman's] words repeating, in a reproof to him, and perhaps the previous narrators: 'You should be ashamed of yourself.' In a collection so dominated by a male point of view, this striking, admonitory tone might be read as the key to the book.
I can divulge up front that his latest, First Person Singular, is not very good ... Among its themes are nostalgia, music and erotic reminiscence. The book is not without its charms and Murakami’s mild and affable authorial persona will please his fans. While his novels tend towards the baroque and the fantastical, First Person Singular works best when Murakami keeps it simple in stories that resemble memoir and recount affairs, friendships or one-night stands from bygone decades ... While Murakami’s more thrilling novels contain war crimes, sexual deviancy and other sinister elements, the abiding tone here is of grandfatherly niceness. It leaves you craving an edge, which only arrives in the final, titular story, and even then inconclusively. First Person Singular’s blandly nostalgic musings on, say, watching baseball at a stadium in Tokyo would go down without much friction if only Murakami wrote better prose ... what I find instead is lazy, halfhearted prose and what I’ve come to think of as Murakami’s trademark banality ... To be charitable, we might put all this down to the late-career trailing off of a much-loved storyteller. The cynic in me wonders if the bizarrely limp style is a performance calculated to disarm: insipid Murakami the non-threatening crowdpleaser – the Forrest Gump of global literature.
... certainly offers easy reading ... Most are trivial. That’s to say, success depends on the manner, not the material. There is very little narrative interest. The stories meander like a river through gentle countryside ... This new book will surely please those who already know and delight in his work, and serve as an enjoyable introduction for those unfamiliar with it. Sometimes the faux-naif tone may be tiresome, but mostly he offers agreeable comfort reading. Some will read it as pure fiction, more perhaps as a lightly fictionalised memoir. It doesn’t matter which it is. The pleasures and occasional irritations will be the same.
... doesn’t disappoint ... [Murakami's] books are an intimate invitation to revel in his perpetually unpredictable, yet remarkably convincing, imagination ... Murakami writes with such assurance as to turn the implausible credible, the outlandish engrossing ... Each story enthralls. (Readers should be aware some of the stories are not appropriate for everyone) ... Avid fans might notice that six stories previously appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, and Freeman’s, but to savor the collection in full will undoubtedly prove to be a beguiling gift.
First Person Singular is a patch of intense variety and colour, in which a typical Murakami narrator ponders his way through ordinary situations of love, memory and alienation punctuated by surreal moments ... Translated by the award-winning Philip Gabriel, the stories play on perennial Murakami themes: chance encounters, the clash of magic and mundanity and the power of memory ... the voice and experiences of Murakami, who grew up in an Americanised, baseball-loving, jazzy Japanese society, shine through ... Murakami’s protagonists tend to be introspective, ordinary men who find themselves confronted by women and unusual situations. It is as much their reactions to events as the events themselves that make his books so brilliant. That, as well as the extended descriptions of banality and the long winding metaphors that paint pictures like little else.
... the product of a master at work. Haruki Murakami is one of the finest examiners of the human condition of his or any other literary generation. The fact that he folds those examinations into tales that are quietly magical or broadly absurd or both only enhances their impact. This is a man whose prose is exquisitely crafted and whose ideas are beautifully formed ... The remarkable thing about Murakami – well, one of the many remarkable things, anyway—is his ability to evoke the mysticism and mundanity of life at the same time. These are delicate provocations of the imagination, stories of quickly-consumed deliciousness that somehow continue to expand even after you’ve gone on. These are stories that linger in the best possible way, with flashes of imagery and snippets of dialogue continuing to reappear in your perception even after days have passed ... Another remarkable book from a remarkable writer.
In classic Murakami fashion, the enigmatic narrators of these eight stories are all referred to only as 'I,' except in the most autobiographical of the stories ... It has become a platitude to refer to Murakami’s plots as dreamlike, but the events described here are inexplicably odd, with illogical turns of events and fantastical details ... Nevertheless, throughout the collection, Murakami expresses faith in the writing of memory to approach a sort of truth, even if that truth remains ultimately inaccessible. In that sense, the writing of memory is akin to translation, seeking to recreate by interacting with—rather than perfectly reproducing—the original ... The collection’s encounters with women do suffer from some of the limitations that have appeared elsewhere in Murakami’s work, most notably the problematic representations of its female characters, who can be thinly drawn and sometimes serve—or even sacrificed—as narrative conveniences for the narrator’s self-realization or transformation ... Nevertheless, the collection does also feature female characters like T* in 'Carnaval,' who are much more central figures and whose impenetrable complexity becomes the subject of the story. Dominant in this mysterious collection are the slipperiness of time and writing as a means of comprehension. In this way, it functions as an autobiography in fragments for the Murakami-like narrator ... In this collection, even as the writing of memory obscures one’s sense of the past, it also clarifies the present.
Whether the memory that centers each story occupies a firm place in reality or evades verification, it represents a psychological apex or nadir for the narrator; whatever path his life takes afterwards, the feeling that comes through in the telling of it is regret, a sense of failure, as if some vital signpost were ignored, or not even noticed, or the sign was too cryptic to be followed ... it’s as if he took the horror genre, carefully extracted the horror, and left us with what makes the best of the genre engrossing and disquieting. We go along with what is unbelievable, drawn into unplaceable moods ... The real story is in what really happened to the narrator—what he tries to explain but cannot quite put into words.
One begins a new Haruki Murakami book with high expectations...the strange radiance of his work and his tendency to present mysteries or puzzles with no solutions. These elements are certainly on display in his new story collection, First Person Singular, but the dominant mode here is memory. In this collection, an older narrator goes sifting through the events of his past, some of them surreal and unexplainable. Often, in the middle of a story, a memory will trigger another memory, through a sort of mnemonic leap; the result can be like a confusingly drawn map that means more to the creator than the reader ... There is an enchanting array of material ... There is also, at times, a calculated and somewhat peevish anticipation of criticism or interpretation ... Murakami also challenges readers’ sensibilities with 'Carnaval,' which unfortunately never rises above its crass opening (though it aspires to) ... This story could rightfully be compared with 'On a Stone Pillow,' which starts out as a tale of a one-night stand with a woman whose face and name he can’t remember, but then manages to open up into a beautiful, sensitive meditation on her poetry. (She sent him a small, self-published book after the encounter.) Here, as ever, Murakami soars most when he circles around the central 'theme' of this collection[.]
'Memoir or fiction?' the back cover asks. 'The reader decides'...The real question is: Does the reader care? Each story is like the greenery filler in a grocery store bouquet: stiff and charmless, background fodder, indistinct organic matter. They’re like copies of copies of copies of Murakami’s older work; all the specificity and vivacity is blurred out. The women are rubbed down into featureless nubs, the men deflated caricatures — popped balloons. The only appeal left to make to the reader is the brand name on the cover ... Murakami has never been the recluse of popular repute, but First Person Singular, his fifth story collection and 22nd book, arrives as he seems more willing than ever to commodify his bigger-than-cult status ... The eight stories in First Person Singular share a deadening lack of curiosity ... Unlike the best of Murakami, in which strange coincidences subsume the characters’ lives, pulling them into vast underground conspiracies that reorient their (and our) relationship with the 'normal' world, First Person Singular butts up against oddities and then walks away, slightly bewildered ... But sheer snooziness isn’t the collection’s worst offense. Murakami’s treatment of women is abhorrent. He disregards women as interchangeable and unremarkable for anything other than their looks: of all the women in these eight stories, only one has a name ... Namelessness, especially in a collection that plays with notions of authorial identity, isn’t such a grievous offense on its own. But the collection on the whole is dismissive of women as creatures of intellect and agency, and so bent on spotlighting its own ignorance that it feels less like a stylistic move than a simple refusal to see women in three dimensions. After writing a long string of hypersexualized teen girls, Murakami ought to hope we read all these as fiction and pretend that the 'is-it-memoir' question is merely a literary stunt.
Murakami plays a fairly out-sized role in this book ... At times this is benign, through protagonists that are often writersI think many die-hard fans of Murakami’s will already, in some way, know of this connection, and that feeling underlines how the book registers to me: primarily a collection for those who are already fans of his work. They’re familiar—cozy, even—stories to me, despite being new. Even so, Murakami is playing with tone here in a way he doesn’t always; for a writer whose tropes are well known, it’s refreshing to read pieces like The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection, as well as Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova, a story about a fictional review of a fictional album. I don’t think Murakami is exactly breaking new ground here, but he’s not stagnating, either. The stories here still capture how it feels to see a beautiful girl in passing, or hear a piece of music for the first time in years, or watch a baseball game—and suddenly find yourself plunged into the depths of memory, wondering how you got there, as the person you are now.
For fans of Haruki Murakami, who number in the millions and who read him in more than 50 languages, this short story collection will deliver a welcome sense of déjà vu. For new readers, First Person Singular is a crash course in appreciating this author ... Most of all, though, these stories are unmistakably Murakami’s for the way they traffic in his signature themes of time and memory, nostalgia and young love. They are characterised, like so much of his writing, by the collision of everyday realism with the surreal and the sublime ... This distillation of Murakami does not always serve him perfectly. As a collection, these stories highlight the homogeneity of his technique: the narrators are indistinguishable, all speaking in his trademark casually pensive tone. The compression of the form is noticeable too. Some endings are hurried, and the stories can feel stranger, or more frivolous, without more time to acclimatise to their particular versions of reality. They make you realise the spaciousness of the novels, and how well they suit Murakami’s style...Yet each one has insights that remain with you long after they are done ... This is, as the narrator’s friend concludes, 'the kind of amazing music that no one else could write'.
... delightful ... to step into First Person Singular is to cross from our present moment and into a lost country demarcated by old memories. As the title would suggest, these stories are populated by narrators looking back at the events of their own lives, often with an indulgent, nostalgic bent for their student years.
... will satisfy [Murakami's] fans and serve as a fine introduction to neophytes, echoing many of the uncanny scenarios of his earlier work ... The specter of mortality looms larger in First Person Singular than in Murakami’s other work. In the stories that relive defining incidents from a narrator’s youth, Murakami’s characters no longer wonder what might have been ... These eight stories, all told in first person, are unapologetically Murakami. Whether its talking monkeys or reverential passages on Charlie Parker or Beatles albums, First Person Singular doesn’t break much new ground, but it will remind readers why Murakami’s work is singular.
... doesn’t disappoint ... Murakami writes with such assurance as to turn the implausible credible, the outlandish engrossing ... Each story enthralls. (Readers should be aware some of the stories are not appropriate for everyone) ... to savor the collection in full will undoubtedly prove to be a beguiling gift.
The pieces here tap the author’s infatuations with the Beatles and Mozart, baseball and poetry, transgressive sex and fleeting romance, served up with dollops of American pop culture. It’s all here, narrated in a range of voices, from deadpan poet to magical realist to song critic ... Murakami’s encyclopedic knowledge of music surges to the fore, echoed in vivid imagery ... First Person Singular takes us not only through Murakami’s imagination but also his career, teasing out evergreen themes while offering fresh spins on the meaning of 'I,' an eye that’s both observer and participant in the stories of others.
You can’t have a conversation about literary fiction of the past 50 years without mentioning Haruki Murakami, and First Person Singular reminds us why ... By distorting reality, the author creates a special closeness to his audience, and he acknowledges this relationship with intelligence and grace ... the older Murakami seems more intelligent and compassionate. With this collection, Murakami leverages his position as an aging man in a rapidly changing world to set an example for others: Your perspective should never stay the same, and your writing must grow until it can’t fit its container.
... a collection of short stories that, in one way or another, continues the unique and harnessed imaginative wanderings of one of the greatest minds of world literature ... The bizarre headspace that Murakami puts you in will feel right at home for those of us who have been hanging on every word he has ever written (yes, I’m a longtime fan). For those of you who have not yet discovered the magic and furor of his wild mind, First Person Singular will present the perfect opportunity for the two of you to get acquainted. In short, brilliantly sharpened strokes, you, too, will fall under the spell of his literary madness. This is the Area 51 of modern world literature --- there are secrets that you have heard of, but do you really believe them? Try it and find out. You won’t be sorry ... yet another exciting adventure with one of literature’s greatest adventurers. Enjoy in small doses, and celebrate that Murakami continues to grace us all with such singularly thoughtful work.
What is made clear in this latest collection of stories is that Murakami is a master storyteller ... Murakami deals with all of these issues in simple and almost delicate language with no particular explanation of memory, only a kind of wonder about it. He deals with very human moments and emotions and dwells within them, as they dwell within his characters. There are both moving and puzzling stories that at times are laced with humor ... Some will find these strange juxtapositions too much to deal with. Others will be irritated by the lack of resolution and the open-ended qualities of many of the stories. Ultimately, what Murakami produces is a world that features the odd, the unexpected, the incomprehensible, and the often troubled and emotional landscape through which humans travel across time.
Murakami enthusiasts won’t find any major changeups here. Like his (mostly) beloved novels, the collection is rife with magical realism, pithy aha moments, and wondrous fissures in the time-space continuum ... There’s one potential clunker. Murakami has often been criticized for his one-dimensional depictions of women (to put it mildly). 'Carnaval,' a story about a man who bonds with a woman over their mutual love of composer Robert Schumann, is especially off-putting for this reason. Here’s the telling first line: 'Of all the women I’ve known until now, she was the ugliest.'
Occasionally, galleries put on exhibitions of an artist’s sketches. Instead of finished works or acknowledged masterpieces, on display are doodles in which the painter experiments with the concepts that will eventually be incorporated into more mature work...First Person Singular reads like that. Only instead of youthful preparatory work, these are the musings of an older man looking back on some of the Murakami-esque things that happened to him in his real, or imagined, youth ... The writing can be simple to the point of banal. The ideas are more elaborately developed in earlier, more complete works...or that reason, Murakami first-timers should probably skip this slight volume and go for one of those more substantial novels instead ... Yet there is something for Murakami aficionados in these stories by a writer at ease in his own skin. The search for truth is less urgent.
Herbert Mitgang, in reviewing an earlier collection of Murakami stories for the New York Times, commented, 'Nearly all the short stories in The Elephant Vanishes are fun to read, but Mr. Murakami seems better as a long-distance runner in fiction.' Using only one-and-a-half Murakami novels and a dozen short stories as my gauge, I’m inclined to agree
Whether in his epic-scale novels or in his shorter works, much of Murakami’s appeal has always come from the beguiling way in which his characters react to wildly fantastical events in the most matter-of-fact manner, ever ready to accept how the twists and turns of everyday life can blend into more audacious alternate realities ... The glue that holds together Murakami’s blending realities—in these stories and, indeed, in all of his fiction—is always the narrator’s love for something (a woman, a song, a baseball team, a moment in the past) that is both life-giving and deeply melancholic. Masterful short fiction.
Murakami’s engrossing collection offers a crash course in his singular style and vision, blending passion for music and baseball and nostalgia for youth with portrayals of young love and moments of magical realism. The one thing shared by the collection’s eight stories is their use of the first-person-singular voice. Murakami’s gift for evocative, opaque magical realism shines ... These shimmering stories are testament to Murakami’s talent and enduring creativity.
A new collection of stories from the master of the strange, enigmatic twist of plot ... Murakami’s characters are typically flat of affect, protesting their ugliness and ordinariness, and puzzled or frightened by things as they are. But most are also philosophical even about those ordinary things, as is the narrator of that fine Beatles-tinged tale, who ponders why it is that pop songs are important and informative in youth, when our lives are happiest: 'Pop songs may, after all, be nothing but pop songs. And perhaps our lives are merely decorative, expendable items, a burst of fleeting color and nothing more.' An essential addition to any Murakami fan’s library.