Men without women was written by Japanese best- selling author Haruki Murakami and originally published in 2014 by Bugeishunjuu Ltd. It is a collection of stories centred around relationships as told from various male perspectives. It develops the themes of loneliness and heartbreak with particular emphasis on male vulnerabilities thereby challenging the standard consensus of brutish virility.
My experiences with men, particularly in relation to women has been all but lewd conversation and…..well…that’s it actually, lewd conversation (and that’s putting it nicely). Even when these men have shown themselves capable of some depth, it all goes belly up when a hottie with huge knockers or a huge batty strolls through the door. Excuse my French ladies.
But Men Before Women is a lot more mature in the way it discusses women. It focuses most of its attentions on the man’s attempt to find closure or deal with his own complexities, whilst also acknowledging a man’s affinity towards beautiful women. Even the two college boys; Tanimura and his eccentric, Beatles-loving friend Kitaru evoke this sense of maturity in their exchanges about women, albeit their susceptibility to masturbation.
The narrative switches in voice throughout the book a bit like in The Refugees by Thanh Viet Nguyen. And like The Refugees, I wasn’t too keen on the amalgamation of stories. Maybe it’s because I prefer the type of books I can sink my teeth into; the ones where you follow the characters on a journey as they grow and change and find themselves. But also like The Refugees, each story is written seamlessly in itself. However, Men Before Women seemed to give each narrative a more wholesome ending that didn’t trail off into ambiguity.
The language is very visual, rife with well-devised comparisons that made even the image of an old ceiling interesting. The picturesque descriptions, such as the “ominous dark clouds of impending friction,” is almost representative of the Japanese (well actually Chinese) writing system, Kanji, which mimics images to create words.
Some chapters were a bit slow paced with mundane dialogue and dull recollections of one’s everyday movements and some chapters seem purely symbolic or fable-like such as in the case with Kino and Kamita. The latter being the physical materialisation of a tree spirit come to help Kino reconcile with his past.
In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have plans to read it again because I think I will appreciate it a lot more as a collection of short stories rather than reading through the expectation-reality lens. Men Without Women is a very touching expression of male emotions that endows manliness with a greater degree of depth. Men are not immune to the pain of heartbreak nor are they always the instigators of such pain. Sometimes their love affairs leave them reeling on the “dark side of the moon,” in a cold inhospitable place.
I rate Men Without Women…
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