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As a huge fan of Haruki Murakami, 'The Elephant Vanishes' is both as enlightening as it is frustrating to read.
This collection of short stories is eminently readable and Murakami presents a typically off-beat cast of characters and plots to shred our conceptions of what is normal and to point out the banality of what we consider fantastic! At the same time, however, my 'critic head' rebels against saying that this is a great collection of short stories.
Many famous authors have graduated from short works of fiction to full-length novels and Murakami is no expection. While some of the tales are very enjoyable, others have a very 'adolescent' quality to them and seem to be unfinished. Unfortunately this range is one of the hazards of collections.
Great to dip into with a glass of something on a miserable night, this is a good collection for finding hidden meaning and enjoyment from. As a matter of personal preference, I suggest that interested readers check out 'After the Quake' before attempting 'The Elephant Vanishes', as the thematic links between the stories in this collection make it an altogether more readable beast.
Buy it, but don't rush!
'The Elephant Vanishes' is a compilation of 17 short stories by Haruki Murakami, translated by the established duo of Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin. Some of which previously appeared in various international newspapers and magazines. The title refers to the last story in the book. To say that this collection is excellent doesn't do the book enough justice, it's far beyond that. It's definetly one of Murakami's greatest works, and I'd recommend all fans of his, and non-fans of his interested in the bizarre to invest in this book. The first story of the book can possibly be skipped by persons who have read 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle', as it seems to just be a minature version of one of the early chapters, turning it into the secluded story of three women inflicting their weirdnesses on our dazzled central character. The second story about a couple holding up a local McDonald's to break a hunger curse is simply downright funny and silly. It's a modern day fairy tale, as are many of the stories in this book. It's lovingly written and easy to get into to, as with all the other stories too. The oddballness doesn't end on the second story, when on the successive chapter a worker in a complaints department is enthralled by the writing of an unknown female's complaint, and declares his love in a tape recorded letter. Another comical one. And then there's the social observation where one guy confesses to another about a dream girl he witnessed and is biting at himself for missing the opportunity to make a move on her. The tale about an insomniac wife is actually quite mind-numbing. Very interesting, but makes you think quite a bit, atleast that's what it did to me. All of these stories are really memorable as you can tell by my recollections so far, as they really do make a good lasting impression. It's a good cohesive collection, and the arrangement of the stories couldn't ha
ve been bettered. Anyway, after the insomniac wife, Murakami proceeds by fooling with us a title that refers to some historical events, that actual barely no relevance to the story, other than that they get namechecked within - a good throw-off! One of my most favourite stories has to be about lederhosen - a woman buying a pair from a holiday in Germany on request by her husband as a souveneir, and then proclaims divorce on sight of them. Why?... Following this is an equally oddball tale recounting an obsession with burning barns purely for the pleasure of them being turned to ash. ...And well, things aren't about to get normal when a woman comes into a contact with a little green monster proclaiming her love for her, but unfortunately it isn't really her cup of tea. A silly little tale. Atleast then the normality squad can find some semblance in a funny little tale involving a brother, his little sister and fiancee - a family thing. Before going on, as with many of Murakami's works, there are familiar threads in here. One of them being that a few of the stories namecheck an elephant (especially the title story, obviously) and the emergence of characters named Noboru Watanabe (all different people though) makes me wonder if that name isn't the Japanese equivalent of John Smith? That's just one thread I can pick out. There are some others that I can't pick out as I write - that span within this book, and his other books. Back to the recollections again (I hope, and don't think these little synopses will spoil them for you, I'm being very careful not to reveal too much, and if I am the pleasure still derives solely from reading them), the next story calls up a young ex-member of a letter writing society invited to share some juicy steak with a middle-aged woman; who then ponders on actions, events and the flow of life itself in the subtle course of this atleast - surface wise - innocent little story. Then
we go back to ga-ga land with the proportionatly sized TV people who lug little portable TV sets around the environment of our protagonist for no real apparent reason and inform him of a change in his life that has just occured. This is weird as the events around these are oblivious and fragmented. They make no string of sense at all. It's great! The next story follows recollections of acquaintances who are all Chinese, and then talks about a kind of escapism from the monotonous perils of city life in modern Tokyo. Another big favourite story of mine is the evil but brightly coloured fairy tale of a dancing dwarf from a previous century infiltrating the mind of a corporate elephant making (yes!) factory worker and bids him an offer with consequences. Following this is a story about a part-time lawn-mower and student who on visiting his last job meets an old woman who shows him the room of her daughter, and finds some kind of comparative distance in his just expired relationship with his girlfriend. Just before the story of the title of the book, is a great little story about how scarey and fragile it is in the fact that people do consume information from sources without question, and that can lead to lives being damaged and fatal loop-holes within society. An unescapable true reality. It offers hope, even if that comes with it's stale aftertaste aswell. Now 'The Elephant Vanishes' is quite a bizarre tale. I don't know why this story was chosen as maybe, possibly the representative of the collection, but it's still a good choice, and the title is the catchiest too! It revolves funnily enough, around the unsolved dissapearance of a town's adopted elephant. Then a conversation between two workers tied in with the marketing of kitchen appliances sheds some light to the fact that a shift in balance, or disturbance or unity can bring anything down. In this case in the term of it being plainly physical, but pokes at the
less tangible aspects more so. A great ending story. Overall though, Murakami manages to give all these stories here a unique unity in this one solid body of work. A great collection of stories, another classic work in Murakami's collection. I suggest to all people to read it. It's a definite must-buy for all Murakami fans, and could even start as a good point for those new and curious in the work of one of the greatest modern day writers. Hip, and smart and a joy to read. Simply beyond excellent!
A collection of short stories--Murakami's first American publication, which won him a wide following.