It's hard to describe a Murakami story: the down-to-earth yet otherwordly characters; the mundane but meaningful actions they take; the strange but so familiar feelings they experience. Over and over, when I try to tell my friends and family about his work I can only say "It's amazing, but I can't explain why." There's bits of fairy tale, bits of contemporary fiction, all steeped in Japanese culture. But the foreign elements only serve to highlight how universally human the ideas and emotions Murakami uses really are. In the titular story, we take a look into the life of a man and his nephew. The young nephew calmly describes how he copes with a condition that partially deafens him. The narrator helps as best he can, and can't help but think back to another trip he took to the hospital in his youth, and the decisions he made then. The story evokes a rich nostalgia, but tempers it with the hope and optimism of the young nephew. Another story, simply called "The Year of Spaghetti" traces the events of one year in the narrator's life, and how those events tie into his sudden obsession with cooking spaghetti. "Man-Eating Cats" and "The Seventh Man" are powerful emotional tales of loss, and the journey the narrators must take to find peace. But my favorite story was the surreal "Dabchick," about a man on his way to a job interview, and the riddling doorman who won't let him in.
If you've ever heard about Murakami, but been too intimidated by the size of his novels (his latest "1Q84" clocks in at 925 pages!) this collection is the perfect introduction. Each story is a complete Murakami experience, and only takes an hour or so to read. Give Murakami a try and see if you can do what I can't, and explain why you love his work so much!
This is a thought provoking novel that alternates between a modern horologist, and a Victorian gentlemen, both battered by bereavement, grasping for comfort and meaning in the construction of an automaton. The book begins as Catherine, a conservator who specializes in antique clockwork, learns that her lover is dead. As their affair was secret, she is unable to publicly grieve. Her Curator takes pity, and sends her to a side annex to work on a special project, where she will be out of the way. It is there, through entries read from crumbling journals, that she meets Henry. Henry's son is ill, and in increasingly desperate efforts to find a cure, he embarks on a journey to Germany to commission for his son, the construction of a clockwork duck. Little does he know that the only engineer who can help him is an eccentric genius, Sumper, who will change Henry and Catherine's lives in ways they couldn't expect. The story alternates between the two voices,dwelling for a time on the nature of loss. But the most interesting question the novel asks is what it means to be alive. Catherine, Henry and Sumper all work with automatons and clockwork, creatures made of metal and wood, but still move with grace and purpose. Catherine remembers fondly the moments she shared with her lover, when they exalted in their "soulless" bodies, focused entirely on the here, the now, and the real. Sumper, the genius who actually creates the clockwork, can't help but assign greater meaning to the numbers, the cogs, and the chains that bring his creations to life. Which of them have the right idea? Are we humans anything more than chemical machines? Do the metal and silicon creatures we create occupy the same spiritual space that we do? Peter Carey raises these questions and uses them to tell a story as complex and mystifying as the clockwork that drives it.
In anticipation of the sequel "Talulla Rising," let's take a look at Glen Duncan's intriguing foray into the paranormal craze. "The Last Werewolf" is a great take on the genre. Duncan takes only what he wants from the tropes and themes of the horror genre, and uses them to tell a new kind of story. It's visceral and gritty. It's somehow outrageous and realist at the same time. Jake is the titular hero, a centuries old werewolf who has grown world weary and despondent. When he isn't murdering innocents as a werewolf, or running for his life from the modern organization of monster killers, he reads. He believes himself to be alone, and his species to be without a future. Scenes of brutal violence follow lovely prose passages; Jake's musings range from the nature of humanity and desire, to literary criticism and religion. And just when Jake has begun to accept his futureless fate, he encounters She, a female werewolf, and his life is changed. This book hits your brain and your gut, in a thrilling back and forth. You won't know what to think or feel, but you won't be able to put it down. Pick it up today and you'll be ready for "Talulla Rising."
Neil Gaiman's take on the "Black Orchid" is a must read for any super hero fan. In it, Gaiman exploits the qualities of this unique hero to challenge the themes most common in modern super hero stories: namely men using violence to either create problems, or solve them. Instead, Black Orchid is a female human/plant hybrid, part of DC's pantheon of plant characters (which also includes Woodrue, Poison Ivy and Swampthing, who make guest appearances in the story). Plants have a different way of doing things. As Black Orchid searches for answers to her origin and purpose, she never raises her hand in anger or violence. In doing so, Neil Gaiman tells a new kind of story in super hero genre, a story where fists and guns can't solve everything.
There is plenty of action though, as the tumultuous world swirls about in a challenge to Orchid's serenity. Heavy hitters like Lex Luthor, and The Dark Knight also make appearances. Dave McKean's art is as otherworldly and beautiful as ever, brought to brilliant new life with the Deluxe Edition's remastered colors. The Deluxe Edition is a hardcover and also includes bonus content that reveals a bit of the creative process that went into the making of this beautiful book.