First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami
June 20, 2021
First Person Singular felt a bit different from the rest of Murakami’s works. I can’t really put my finger on exactly why just yet, but let me try to get at the essence of what I think I read.
This collection of stories had a big emphasis on reminiscing? The characters were all very similar, both to each other and I guess to Murakami’s usual characters as a whole: some vague, painfully average male, though there were some variation in ages, I don’t think it made a big difference in terms of their personalities.
In most of the stories, secondary characters were usually just recalled from the protagonist’s memory and served primarily as backdrops. More often then not, these were female characters. Now, this point has been brought up over and over again, that Murakami’s female characters are little more than just two-dimensional plot points. He has some well-written ones, sure, but I think the vast majority (especially in this collection) of them are not fantastic.
I have mixed feelings about whether or not this is ok. On one hand, I don’t love it, just because of, well, the way that it is, but on the other hand, I don’t see why it’s not ok? He is writing from a narrow point of view, but that seems fine? I haven't really thought this through and am still trying to formulate an opinion.
In the case of these stories, I found myself “resonating” with a number of passages (not necessarily with entire stories). I think because they are written from a first person POV, it makes a lot more sense for characters to not be fleshed out. Multiple stories are focused around this idea of past connections being irreversibly lost, with time usually being the main factor. So it makes sense to me that these characters serve as nothing more than context, and I think I understand the “blurriness” that accompanied many of the stories (if that makes sense).
I think I mainly focus on the writing and ideas behind these stories. They don’t hold much in the way of a substantial plot, but there are fragments that I think are worth examining closer.
I’ve read a lot of Murakami’s writing at this point, and this collection kind of feels like a winding down. It feels like it was written by someone getting older and taking a step away to look back on life and what’s happened.
“Your brain is made to think about difficult things. To help you get to a point where you understand something that you didn’t understand at first. And that becomes the cream of your life. The rest is boring and worthless. That was what the gray-haired old man told me. On a cloudy Sunday afternoon in late autumn, on top of a mountain in Kobe, as I clutched a small bouquet of red flowers. And even now, whenever something disturbing happens to me, I ponder again that special circle, and the boring and the worthless. And the unique cream that must be there, deep inside me.”
“Had she vanished, like smoke? Or, on that early-autumn afternoon, had I seen not a real person but a vision of some kind? Perhaps I had idealized her in my mind at the instant that we passed each other, to the point where even if I actually saw her again I wouldn’t recognize her?”
“I believe that love is the indispensable fuel that allows us to go on living. Someday that love may end. Or it may never amount to anything. But even if love fades away, even if it’s unrequited, you can still hold on to the memory of having loved someone, of having fallen in love with someone. And that’s a valuable source of warmth. Without that heat source a person’s heart—and a monkey’s heart, too—would turn into a bitterly cold, barren wasteland. A place where not a ray of sunlight falls, where the wildflowers of peace, the trees of hope, have no chance to grow.”