First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami – review

Published by Vintage

Publication date – 5 April 2022

Source – review copy

Translated by Philip Gabriel

The eight masterly stories in this new collection are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator. From nostalgic memories of youth, meditations on music and an ardent love of baseball to dreamlike scenarios, an encounter with a talking monkey and invented jazz albums, together these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator who may or may not be Murakami himself is present. Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides.

Philosophical and mysterious, the stories in First Person Singular all touch beautifully on love and solitude, childhood and memory. . . all with a signature Murakami twist.

First Person Singular is a collection of eight short stories, written, as the title suggests, in the first person singular. In them there are reflections on old girlfriends, jazz, The Beatles and simians.

Many of the stories seem to blur the lines between fiction and auto-biographical. Some of the earlier ones would appear to fit into the former but in later stories the narrator refers to himself as Murakami which sheds new light on the previous tales. There are reflections on old girlfriends with a possible grudge together with a story about a talking monkey at a remote hotel. Things are never quite as they seem. The world created seems slightly off-kilter. This is partly to do with the stories themselves, the setting and because of the author’s style of writing. There is also the added layer that always comes from translated work, a fairy-tale like veil that covers the work in a mystic all of its own.

There is an intimacy that is created with stories written in first person singular. The narrator appears to be talking directly to the reader, re-telling incidents and anecdotes from their life. There is also the sense of a passage of time, with the stories moving from reflections from youth to a more recent past. It is this reflection that links the stories together, seemingly disparate musings coming together to create a more cohesive collection.

The only other Murakami work I have read is Birthday Girl, another short story which has a similar sense of magical combined with the everyday and it was easy to see the author’s style carried through all of the stories. I shall be interested in reading his full length novels in the future.

A collection to dip in and out of, that transport the reader with stories where things are reflective with a magic like sheen.

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