Top critical review
Disappointing Pop Fiction
Reviewed in the United States on April 6, 2021
This book suffers from the same maladies as Murakami’s other works of fiction. By this I mean that there is no sense of place, time or character in his writings. These are all hallmarks of good literature, but sorely lacking here. His writings in foreign settings always ring hollow and those set in his native Japan don’t come across as authentic. This is simply another collection of Pop Fiction in which Murakami once again tries too hard to rely on fabricated memories, cliches, overly manufactured situations and mindless tangents, not to mention his characteristic over-sentimentality.
Many critics attribute Murakami’s style to magic realism, but it is magic realism only in the the way Japanese anime or manga are magic realism. This is style over substance, while lacking depth and is akin to a sugar high one gets from consuming too many empty calories. Murakami’s weirdness is often simply for the sake of weirdness and to grab attention without much depth or deeper meaning.
There is good reason why Murakami is more popular overseas than he is in Japan, since he is hawking a version of Japanese life which does not exist in Japan and never has. As such, he is guilty of the worst sin for a writer, which is one of dishonesty and illusion. This may work for those who lack a certain familiarity or first hand experience with Japan, but it is widely dismissed by readers with a deeper understanding of the country, its culture and customs.
Murakami’s fiction presents a very distorted and unrealistic view of Japan and its society - one that is completely divorced from reality and exists only in his mind. One may try to forgive this if it at least facilitated a better understanding or shed some deeper light into contemporary Japan, but sadly he does not even attempt to go there. In some strange way, Murakami seems to be presenting a cliched and fetishized West to his Japanese readers, while at the same time presenting a cliched and fetishized Japan to foreign readers (albeit with a contemporary flair).
Like most of his earlier fiction, I find this latest collection of Murakami’s stories quite unsatisfying and one that leaves a bad aftertaste, much like haphazardly put together fusion food or fusion music. It may be fine for readers looking for some light summer reading on the beach, but in my opinion it does not place Murakami in the same league as other great writers of our time.