Reviewed by Bob Williams
by Haruki Murakami
2007, ISBN 978-0-307-26583-8, $22.95, 191 pages
This is Murakami’s twelfth work of fiction. It is late at night and Mari, a young student, sits in a Denny’s restaurant in Tokyo. She is reading a book when she is accosted by Takahashi, a rather unkempt young man on the way to a rehearsal of his music group. He remembers that they had sort of dated two years before with Mari’s beautiful older sister Eri Asai. Mari is not ready to talk to him but this doesn’t bother Takahashi who is an incorrigible conversationalist.
After he leaves, Mari returns to her book, but she has not been reading long when a woman comes in search of her. This is Kaoru, manager of a love motel, who needs an interpreter for a young Chinese prostitute who has been savagely beaten by a client who takes her clothes and her cell phone and leaves her naked and bleeding. Kaoru has learned about Mari from her friend Takahashi. Mari goes with her and Kaoru warms to her, invites her to spend any or all of the night at the motel.
The young Chinese woman’s pimp takes her away and Kaoru searches the computerized record of the motel’s surveillance camera for the man that beat her up. She finds and prints out his image and gives copies to the pimp.
Mari’s sister meanwhile is sleeping and in the company of a narrator we enter her bedroom and look about us. The unplugged television set turns on and shows an empty room. In it we see a man. He is covered with dust and sits in a chair. A camera shows the front of his head but it is impossible to identify him since some kind of plastic covers his face. Eri Asai moves into the room with the man. She is still in her bed and she continues to sleep. Many of the characters will spend time before a mirror at one point or another. None of them notice that after they leave, the mirror still bears their image, has an afterlife of its own.
The man that beat up the Chinese prostitute is a computer expert. He has been to the love motel before. He works nights when the system is at his disposal and has little time with his wife and family. His wife calls him and they have a pleasant if rueful conversation. He appears to be a colorless, even likeable, man and we have no clue to his senseless brutality. Before he leaves his workplace, he goes through the belongings that he took from the Chinese woman. He disposes of most of it but he keeps her phone until he reaches a store on the way home where he leaves the phone in a dairy case. The pimp calls twice and first threatens Takahashi and then the store clerk under the mistaken impression that he is speaking to the same man and that that man is the assailant of his woman.
But the book mostly describes the progress between Mari and Takahashi as they talk about their lives and how they may mend them. Mari attempts to awaken her sister, now back in her bedroom. The act is a sign both of maturity and reconciliation.
This is not a book that develops logically. It cares nothing about loose ends or impossibilities. There is another world that lurks behind and around the world we know and Murakami is disquietingly comfortable in both. This is something different on a scale that is both grand and intimate, an experience like no other and one that the reader should not miss.
About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places