STARRED REVIEW
April 2021

First Person Singular

By Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel
You can’t have a conversation about literary fiction of the past 50 years without mentioning Haruki Murakami, and First Person Singular reminds us why.
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You can’t have a conversation about literary fiction of the past 50 years without mentioning Haruki Murakami, and First Person Singular reminds us why.

As one of the standard-bearers of contemporary magical realism, Murakami has traveled deep into the hearts and minds of both his characters and his readers. In First Person Singular, he offers eight new stories, all told in first person—hence the title—as perhaps memoir, perhaps fiction. For example, “The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection” finds a baseball-loving writer named Haruki Murakami musing on his favorite team and the ties that bind us together. Murakami is always blurring lines, and here it’s left up to the reader to decide what’s real. By distorting reality, the author creates a special closeness to his audience, and he acknowledges this relationship with intelligence and grace.

Murakami’s most significant (and perhaps only) shortcoming is his frequent fumbling of sexuality, which renders some of his work, to put it lightly, cringe-y. Sex is present in all of his books, whether it be tragic, as in Norwegian Wood, occult and Oedipal, as in Kafka on the Shore, or even as the basis for an entire collection, as in Men Without Women. But in First Person Singular, sexuality takes on a new meaning. Murakami is surely aware of this frequent criticism of his work, and here he toys with readers’ expectations. The story “Carnaval” is the best example of this. Its opening line, “Of all the women I’ve known until now, she was the ugliest,” introduces a dated, male voice, but Murakami then subverts expectations to tell a story that's deeper than any one person's perspective. At the heart of this story are truly moving observations about friendship and the connection between people and art.

While in the past, Murakami wrote about Watanabe of Norwegian Wood sleeping with random women, and K of Sputnik Sweetheart imposing himself on a lesbian woman, the older Murakami seems more intelligent and compassionate. With this collection, Murakami leverages his position as an aging man in a rapidly changing world to set an example for others: Your perspective should never stay the same, and your writing must grow until it can’t fit its container.

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First Person Singular

First Person Singular

By Haruki Murakami
Knopf
ISBN 9780593318072

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