The melancholy in Murakami’s writing is something that is not quite hope and yet pays tribute to the human spirit.
Book cover art: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami translated by P Gabriel and T Goossen.
It's no surprise that Haruki Murakami’s books have been translated into at least 50 languages. While the seven short stories that comprise Men Without Women are set in Japan and are about Japanese people, they effortlessly leap cultural boundaries to resonate with the Australian reader as if they featured the next-door neighbours. Clearly, this ability to communicate so well across different cultures has made Murakami’s work eminently translatable.
Three of the short stories were translated by Professor Goossen and four by Professor Gabriel. This is worth a mention because Murakami’s voice remains unchanged in all the stories, regardless of translator. And always, the writing is never less than exquisite. As one of Murakami’s characters says about storytelling:
'No matter what sort of story it was, she made it special. Her voice, her timing, her pacing were all flawless. She captured her listener’s attention, tantalised him, drove him to ponder and speculate, and then, in the end, gave him precisely what he’d been seeking. Enthralled.'
These words could be used in part to describe this book. Further, while readers do indeed get what they seek, that is only in the sense of getting close to an ambiguous realism rather than a neatly fashioned ending emblazoned with a full stop. Murakami has this ability to paint a multi-dimensional word picture: to say maybe this is so and perhaps this is not so.
Murakami’s definition of the title is: ‘at a certain time, losing one woman means loosing all women. That’s how we become Men Without Women.’ Men Without Women is also the title of the last of the seven stories. The stories are about the interaction of men with women from a man’s point of view. While the men in the stories bear no resemblance to each other, what they have in common is their need, their longing, for a woman who is, for each in his own way, some close approximation to an ideal or is someone with whom they can communicate.
Sex is there but is not the predominant factor. Music is there and lovingly described. There is a touch of optimism. There is a sense of loss. And there are some amusing occasions such as when a young man asks his friend to have a date with his girlfriend – in the girlfriend’s presence. But overall there is a sense of melancholy:
'Only a faint trace of warmth remained on her unmade bed. Her scarf with its whirlpool design lay hanging on the back of a chair. A half-read book, its pages open on a table. Half-dry stockings hung out to dry in the bathroom.'
But this is where Murakami’s magic works its tricks, for underlying the melancholy is something that is not quite hope and yet pays tribute to the human spirit. Reading this book will not make you sad. It will make you want to read the book again.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
Translated by P Gabriel and T Goossen
May 15, 2017
Penguin Random House Australia
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level