|Men Without Women|
The vast amounts of high praise for Murakami’s unique writing style compelled me to pick up his book and see what the fuss was all about and my gosh, it blew my mind. As a newcomer to his work I didn’t know what to expect which is just as well, because the seven short stories included in this book are like no other story I have ever read.
The first story is Drive my Car. There is no plot. The story is mostly a conversation between Kafka, an actor still mourning the death of his wife, and his female driver Misaki. We listen to him open up about his relationship with his wife, how she had multiple affairs during their many years together and how he had to watch her die from the terrible illness that is cancer. Despite knowing his wife was seeing other men, he never once discussed this with her. He never let on that he knew and he never asked her why. Now he must forever live with the grief, the pain and the unanswered questions.
I felt quite relieved once the story was over. Not because I didn’t enjoy it. Because reading the story made me feel like I was actually there, with Kafka, in the car. I felt like I was eavesdropping on deeply personal conversation. I wanted to quietly exit the car at the next set of lights and leave him to grieve in peace.
I closed the book and just sat for a while, thinking. Going over what Kafka had said. Why didn’t he ever confront his wife? Was he frightened of what she would say? Was it easier for him to pretend it wasn’t happening and still have his wife rather than confront her and risk losing her? Had he confronted her and lost her, he would have at least had closure. Now he had lost her anyway and would forever be haunted by the what ifs and whys.
These questions and more swam around my head. Drive my car had given me no satisfactory conclusion and I needed to clear my head of all the thoughts and feelings the story had filled me with before I could even think about moving on to the next.
After reading the next couple of stories I noticed a pattern. None of the stories have a plot. Nothing much ever happens yet I couldn’t tear myself away for fear of missing the big reveal, which never ever came. Each and every time I would finish a story, switch off the light and just lay there, sleep eluding me because I had a heart full of mixed up feelings and a head full of questions I would never know the answers to.
Half way through we get to An Independent Organ. The story is about fifty-two-year-old Dr Tokai told from the perspective of his gym partner. He is a cosmetic surgeon who has never been married, never had children and is quite happy to live alone, believing that he isn’t suited for married life. Dr Tokai chooses to have relations with women who were either married or already in a relationship. He feels more at ease knowing these women are unlikely to be seeking long term relationships or anything too meaningful from him.
“But one day, quite unexpectedly, he fell deeply in love. Like a clever fox suddenly finds itself caught in a trap”
The story follows his struggle with the feelings of love, his devastation when just as he feared he loses the only woman he ever loved and how his theory that all women have an independent organ which allows them to lie without any change in their voice or expression because it is not them, it’s their independent organ.
Now hang on a minute Dr Tokai…. Yes, I accept that women lie. I have lied in my lifetime and I’ll probably lie again. But surely you don’t mean to say that only women lie? Do men not have an independent organ too? Do men never lie?
Once again, I’m laid in bed, light off, thoughts whizzing round in my head. I was still smarting after the independent organ theory. And anyway, Dr Tokai is a man who deliberately sought out dishonest women to have relations with. Would it really have been such a surprise that the woman eventually left him for a third? Why was he so frightened to go out and find real love, with a woman who was free to love him back without any complications? Oh man… I could go on for days.
This is what Murakamis stories do to me. They give me more questions than they do answers. The stories have layers upon layers and I’m never quite sure how I’m supposed to interpret them. There are multiple ways his stories can be interpreted, and I feel like this was Murakamis intention.
He draws you in, waits until you’re invested then flips everything upside down and inside out and leaves you to make of it what you will.
Men without women is not for everyone. Some might say the stories are dull. I might even agree. It’s the layers. I wanted peel away each one and get to the true meaning of the story. I don’t feel I came anywhere close, which is why I’ll probably read them all again. This book is like an itch, the more I scratch, the more it itches. Yet I keep on scratching…