... a series of funhouse mirrors, each story in the collection pushing readers to reconsider what is true, distorting the image so completely as to open the viewer to new and unexpected perspectives ... The dozen stories are uniformly strange but delivered in a straightforward cadence that gives lie to the strangeness. They are also wildly readable, each story turning societal norms on their head and leaving readers wondering if maybe it would make sense to honor the passing of a loved one by preparing and sharing a meal from their remains ... Each story displays a fine-boned architecture, a careful curation of details and paring away of the extraneous. The result is remarkable, the lean force of Murata's imagination rippling through each piece ... This, then, is the magic Murata works in Life Ceremony, the impressive way she is able to destabilize a mirrored reflection of humanity, giving back a strange and wonderful truth.
Murata’s prose is deadpan, as clear as cellophane, and has the tidiness of a bento box. She’s not the most subtle writer. You don’t read her for her extra-fine perceptual apparatus. You read her because when her stuff works, it’s chilly and transgressive at the same time ... A few of the stories are quite long; others are vignettes. A handful are banal...Even in her best stories, Murata has a weakness for thesis statements ... Murata’s prose, in this translation from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is generally so cool you could chill a bottle of wine in it. Body Magic is warmer, and more subtle. It made me wonder if she really needs the big-time conceits.
... her narratives are conspicuously weirder, weird in the sense of weird tales—dark and macabre, surprising and strange. The twelve stories blend humor and horror to examine societal norms, and to expose how bizarre and oppressive certain social standards and traditions can be, especially for women ... Human beings frequently like to think of themselves as consistent; they like to view their principles as reasonable and absolute. Yet by taking any premise to its most extreme and absurd conclusion, Murata explores how slippery and self-justifying a lot of activities are. Over and over, her characters discover that structures and hierarchies exist not because they are elegant or natural (or even because they are just and sustainable) but merely because certain segments of society have found them to be expedient ... Murata’s signature matter-of-fact tone makes this off-kilter reality both viscerally and intellectually provocative ... Murata’s style is deceptively blunt and direct, making for a lightning-quick read. And yet, the stories’ haunting premises linger in the mind. Even the very short stories, which initially struck me as high-concept but slight, got stuck in my head ... Life is ineffable, these stories remind us, its circumstances more mutable and multifarious than we may initially believe ... The sense of relativity that recurs throughout these stories feels scary but also perversely liberatory—as though, in Murata’s worlds, anything could happen, marvelous or terrible ... Maybe that’s the best way to immerse yourself in Murata’s peculiar realms—to understand that the experience will be bewildering and probably a little bit gross, but satisfying if you give in and let the weirdness wash fully over you.
Murata’s prose, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is both spare and dreamlike...But she can also take delight in describing stomach-turning scenarios ... A ridiculous scenario? Or is it the idea of setting up home, with all the quotidian minutiae that entails, with the object of your passion that is more ridiculous? Murata’s skill is in turning round the world so that the abnormal, uncivil or even savage paths appear — if momentarily — to make sense.
The collection is unsettling, paved with the disturbances of odd people and new customs nestled amidst familiar words and routines ... Sayaka Murata is a master of delivery, and in Ginny Takemori’s translation, it becomes clear that the way to convey these odd stories in all their philosophical force is to do it deadpan, matter-of-factly, and sometimes, coldly. But—there are breaks, moments that aren’t so much characterized by their coldness but by their sincerity, their characters’ confusion, and their loss ... it would be a disservice to Murata’s work to suggest that she is only concerned with the question of moral ambiguities and whether morality can be universal or timeless. While Murata does push the question of what it means to live an ethical life to its extremes and upsets common social standards without providing any final conclusions, what is most compelling in her collection is how each story pushes us to consider, and then re-consider, who and what we consume; what we allow to become a part of us, to make us—and in her refusal to provide any ready-made solutions, Murata asks us to begin the collective work of coming up with an ethics that responds more fully, more mindfully, to our contemporary predicaments.
Once more, internationally bestselling Murata confronts unspeakable topics with quotidian calm, shockingly convincing logic, and creepy humor in a dozen genre-defying stories ... Murata groupies will appreciate a glimpse of characters from Earthlings (2020), while readers seeking the undefinable will enjoy these tales immensely.
Most of the stories are deeply unsettling ... What all of Murata’s stories have in common is a discomfiting sense that the rules that govern how people behave don’t make as much sense as people would like to think they do. Murata is at her best when she calls the reader’s attention to those rules. She poses ambiguous moral problems—and then refuses to answer them ... The collection contains story upon story forcing the reader to evaluate the cultural norms she can never really escape.
A singular collection that probes the most foundational rituals of human society ... Murata’s stories are tightly woven and endlessly surprising, with far more going on beneath the surface than is initially evident and surprising moments of unexpected beauty. If there’s a drawback, it’s that sometimes the characters seem less like three-dimensional people than vehicles for ideas, rendering the collection almost too thematically cohesive. Nonetheless, Murata’s writing remains essential and captivating, expertly capturing the fragility of social norms and calling into question what remains of human nature once they’re stripped away ... Beautiful, disturbing, and thought-provoking.
In this off-kilter collection, Murata brings a grotesque whimsy to her fables of cultural norms ... The wooden dialogue adds to the sense of comic defamiliarization, which produces the kind of laughs that catch in the throat. Like the author’s novels, this brims with ideas though it’s less enchanting.