Friday, 12 November 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Dear blog,
Because I haven't done a Foreign Language Friday, and Dance Dance Dance is one of those adult books that's so good I just have to review it.

Name: Dance Dance Dance (originally published as Dansu Dansu Dansu)
Written by: Haruki Murakami
First published in: Japanese
Translated by: Alfred Birnbaum
Summary (from Goodreads): In this propulsive novel by the author of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and The Elephant Vanishes, one of the most idiosyncratically brilliant writers at work in any language fuses science fiction, the hard-boiled thriller, and white-hot satire into a new element of the literary periodic table.
As he searches for a mysteriously vanished girlfriend, Haruki Murakami's protagonist plunges into a wind tunnel of sexual violence and metaphysical dread in which he collides with call girls; plays chaperone to a lovely teenaged psychic; and receives cryptic instructions from a shabby but oracular Sheep Man. Dance Dance Dance is a tense, poignant, and often hilarious ride through the cultural Cuisinart that is contemporary Japan, a place where everything that is not up for sale is up for grabs.

Review:  If you like Japanese fiction then it's kind of undoubted that you will have heard of Haruki Murakami, the hugely popular author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore and other such novels.  He left the country after the huge success of his most popular novel, Norwegian Wood, when he became a national celebrity.  Most amusingly, the head of a newspaper claimed that "Haruki Murakami has escaped from Japan!"   This is enough to make me want to read his work.
Dance Dance Dance is, largely, a very confusing book. It's wildly chaotic, some characters and setting appearing for know apparent reason, and seemingly the un-named narrator already knows about.  The Dolphin Hotel, for instance.  Did I miss something there?  For a lot of the book I was expecting some sort of flashback to sort of explain everything, but largely most of it remained unexplained, and kind of threw the reader in at the deep end.  Kiki, for instance.  She was one of the most important characters in the book, but it was like, "this is Kiki, a high-class prostitute  that the narrator was once in love with.  She's disappeared".  Still, I think it was this air of mystery about her that made her so intriguing.  Who was she?  Why did she vanish?

Ditto the Sheep Man. The man who apparently ties everything together and connects thoughts and people.  He serves as a switchboard of sorts. Amusingly, the sheep man stars on the German cover , (the German title translates as Dance with the Sheep Man) although in the book he is actually described as an old man wrapped in some sheepskin, I prefer the idea of a sheep wearing human clothes.  Who wouldn't?  Anyway, I love the Sheep Man mostly for his whole "Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougotta dance. Don'teventhinkwhy" speech, which is to my mind the Japanese "She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl." It's one of those quotes that there are about three different versions of in the Goodreads Quotes section.  With reason, I suppose.

And there are, of course, a multitude of other exciting characters: Yuki, a psychic thirteen-year-old and one of my favourite characters in the book for her frankness, Yumiyoshi, a constantly uptight hotel receptionist, and Gotanda, a divorced actor so handsome he's forever doomed to play dentists or teachers in teen romance movies. Oh, and look out for Yuki's father, Hiraku Makimura.  Stare at his name long enough and you'll get it.

The narrator is un-named throughout the book.  Still, his first-person voice seems very direct, as if he's speaking right to the reader, and how could you not root for him as he traverses across the far side of the world from Tokyo to Hokkaido to Hawai'i in his attempt to see how everything ties together?  He's humorous, realistic and quietly observant of the chaotic advanced capitalism of 1980s Japan, but more than anything he's just an ordinary divorced thirty-something trying to hold everything together.  His voice is realistic, slightly cynical and darkly humorous; it's very believable, mostly because he is nothing special. Until, that is, the string of encounters that throw him, the sheep-man and the other main characters together in the mysterious hotel room.  Still, aside from that obvious fact he is totally, 100%, undeniably ordinary.

And the plot itself is well-paced. I don't read mystery novels very often, mostly because I can't stand all the tension of the unanswered questions.  Maybe it's just me being unfortunate and reading the wrong stuff, but in the mystery novels I read the secrets either all get answered all at once in one big, life-changing scene or else they ask more questions than they answer (*cough* A Series of Unfortune Events *coughcough*).  But Dance Dance Dance is very engaging in how the author strings the reader along in a paperchase of murder, mystery and humour, slowly revealing things bit by bit.

The ending.  Hmm.  The ending, the ending, the ending.  I can't tell whether or not I liked it, actually.  One one hand it seemed like a nice enough stopping point, but it's clear that the narrator's search doesn't end there, and that he could spend his whole life traversing the globe trying to find answers to the multitude of questions left unanswered at the end of the book.  On the other hand, it was a little disappointing that the ending was so inconclusive.  Also, the penultimate scene in the book got on my nerves somewhat, because it seemed kind of "and then Harry woke up in the cupboard under the stairs and it was all a dream".  Let me say before you rip your hair out and scream "Oh my word she hasjust given away the ending", let me assure you that it was not all a dream.  However, mostly because so much of the book seems to surreal, I call into question how much of it was actually real (the obvious answer being none of it because it's fiction), and how much of it was just a figment of the narrator's imagination. The mind boggles, but such is the brilliantness, such is the author's writing that you have to doubt what really happens and what doesn't.

In three words: chaotic, surreal, engaging.
Reccomended for: Murakami fans old and new.
Rating: 5.

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