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  • Writer's pictureKyx

men without women - haruki murakami

in the first edition of #readingonyourbehalf, i'm gonna review men without women by haruki murakami!


i actually saw this book in a Popular bookstore, and it really intrigued me. the concept of "men without women" specifically. of course, we know that gender isn't a binary, but the concept of men and women and the way they are inextricably linked is still one of the building blocks of our world. so what happens when you remove one of the two factors crucial to this delicate balancing act?

as it turns out, quite a lot.

to murakami, it seems that the relationship between a man and a woman is filled with not just joy and bliss, but also pain. throughout the various short stories, murakami depicts a variety of men, from an aging actor to the owner of a small bar to even gregor samsa, a lá Kafka. and in these relationships, the pain felt by the men caused by the women in their lives can range from the more innocent and, to use a rather bad adjective, lighthearted pain of longing, as in samsa's longing for the female repairman to come over again, to the more nuanced and dark pain of cheating wives as in the actor and the owner's stories.

interestingly, murakami also distinguishes the pain the men feel upon their female partners turning from them, and the pain these men feel when they subsequently LOSE them. for instance, even though the aging actor realises his actress wife has been cheating on him with her co-actor in every single film she does, he obviously feels pangs of jealousy and grief that he is unable to be enough for her. but when she dies, he realises that the pain he currently feels would be grief over her loss. he also makes an effort to reach out to her latest ex-lover, and realises that although this man stole her away from him, these two men have one thing in common: which is their shared pain of losing her.

even the magnitude of pain depicted across the short stories is also rather different. the pain can range from the deep-seated anguish expressed by the men above, to pain that is actually rather shallow, and possibly even non-existent. there is an actually super interesting story about the story's narrator's Tokyo born friend who chooses to actively learn the Kansai language and dialect. although the friend seems rather attached to his long-term girlfriend, he seems unwilling to overcome his inability to motivate himself toward doing things he isn't interested in. for instance, he proposes that he and his girlfriend take some time off their relationship until he graduates, but he has failed his leaving exam twice, and seems unwilling to change. more surprisingly, he actually invites the narrator to take his girlfriend out instead, using the logic that he'd rather it be the narrator than any other guy. subsequently, the narrator's friend drifts away from both the narrator and his own girlfriend. of course, the narrator's perspective is limited, so he cannot access his pain.

that's just the content of the book however. the style in which murakami utilises is rather interesting. murakami chooses to utilise limited perspectives, rather than more convenient omniscient perspectives. as such, either his narrators or his characters are limited by their own experiences and inability to access others' thoughts. as such, we never get to know the full extent of the pain felt by other characters in relation to the central women, especially the men besides the main characters or the narrators.

murakami's writing style is also rather casual, and even conversational, as if the main characters or narrators are merely talking to us, the readers, about what is happening in the story rather than taking on more factual, objective perspectives. in their narration, there are intense emotions involved, drawing us more into the characters' experiences.

personally, i rather enjoyed this book. currently, i find it quite difficult to follow long narratives, and that's why the breaking up of the content into several short stories made it more fun and nice for me. i also enjoyed that murakami rarely gives us easy answers to the problems and dilemmas the characters face, even at the end of the stories. but, i was rather disappointed by the fact that murakami chose to purely focus on the romantic and sexual relationships between men and women, because the concept of men without women can also extend to other types of relationships, such as mother-son, friend-friend, teacher-student, and even employer-employee. of course, i'm just spitballing. i also noticed that there were LOTS of mentions of sex, and obviously all the people involved are adults, (although there are a pair of like fourteen or sixteen year olds who have sex so UM) and this is targeted towards adults, so that makes sense. eh i'm not complaining much though, since there was a major focus on the emotions and mentality of the characters in the book.

i've left some stuff out, so if you're interested do read the book!

but as of now, summarising all my feelings about it, i'm gonna give it 3.5/5 stars.


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