Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami – review

Published by Vintage

Publication date – 24 January 2019

Source – own copy

She waited on tables as usual that day, her twentieth birthday. She always worked Fridays, but if things had gone according to plan on that particular Friday, she would have had the night off.

One rainy Tokyo night, a waitress’s uneventful twentieth birthday takes a strange and fateful turn when she’s asked to deliver dinner to the restaurant’s reclusive owner. Birthday Girl is a beguiling, exquisitely satisfying taste of master storytelling, published to celebrate Murakami’s 70th birthday.

This is a short story about a waitress who has to serve dinner to the reclusive owner of the restaurant where she works and was written to celebrate Murakami’s 70th birthday.

At just over 40 pages it can read in the time taken to eat a slice of birthday cake. It’s a strange little tale, abstract as the names of the characters aren’t revealed and with a hint of magic to it.

It has the hint of a modern fairy tale to it, the story ending with a vaugeness that allows the reader to interpret it in their own way.

The difficulty with reviewing such a short story is that there is the potential to simple re-tell the tale and thereby spoil the book for any potential audience.

There is a craft to short story writing, setting the scene, creating character connections and telling the narrative arc in a limited number of words. Here the characters could be imagined, the scene too. As said above, there was some distance to those characters, given they are not named and the limited information about them doesn’t really allow the reader to get a true sense of them. That said it may not be necessary that they do, given this is a short story.

An enjoyable enough tale, one to pass 10 minutes or so with.

About the author

In 1978, Haruki Murakami was 29 and running a jazz bar in downtown Tokyo. One April day, the impulse to write a novel came to him suddenly while watching a baseball game. That first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, won a new writers’ award and was published the following year. More followed, including A Wild Sheep Chase and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but it was Norwegian Wood, published in 1987, which turned Murakami from a writer into a phenomenon. His books became bestsellers, were translated into many languages, including English, and the door was thrown wide open to Murakami’s unique and addictive fictional universe. Murakami writes with admirable discipline, producing ten pages a day, after which he runs ten kilometres (he began long-distance running in 1982 and has participated in numerous marathons and races), works on translations, and then reads, listens to records and cooks. His passions colour his non-fiction output, from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to Absolutely On Music, and they also seep into his novels and short stories, providing quotidian moments in his otherwise freewheeling flights of imaginative inquiry. In works such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1Q84 and Men Without Women, his distinctive blend of the mysterious and the everyday, of melancholy and humour, continues to enchant readers, ensuring Murakami’s place as one of the world’s most acclaimed and well-loved writers.

This was book 4 of my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

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