Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Shinagawa Monkey, translated by Philip Gabriel – by Haruki Murakami – from the collection: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Japanese monkey by NakaeThis story is the definition of a curveball, you think it is a tale about a woman who works as a secretary in a car dealership, only for the story to end with a talking monkey that lives in the sewers. Still, the talking monkey seems to be a better psychologist than the counsellor the woman sees every Wednesday.

Welcome to the world of Murakami. A world where fish falling out of the sky is a normal weather phenomenon. I had read a number of other stories in the collection first, and they hinted at the paranormal, but nothing quite prepared me for this story.

It starts perfectly naturally, Mizuki has a problem that she is forgetting her name, is it the start of early onset alzeihmers?  The doctor she sees doesn’t think so, he believes it’s the manifestation of some underlying psychological issue, and as such she’ll have to pay for the treatment of it herself with a psychologist, something she can’t afford. Fortunately, the local council opens a discounted clinic for workers to attend. Mizuki rearranges her schedule so she gets Wednesday’s off, and attends the clinic where the price of 2000 Yen is affordable for her.

Mrs. Sakaki is her councillor who asks her to think of anything in her past to do with a name. Mizaki remembers a time back at high school where a girl asked Mizaki to look after her nametag when she went back home to attend the funeral of a relative. However, there was no relative and the girl kills herself in the woods. One would think that is the answer right there. Not so. Because the girl asks Mizaki to hold the name badge as she does not want ‘a monkey to run off with it.’ Yes, a literal monkey who steals names.

I liked the story, though I was certainly not ready for the direction it went in. It started like a slice of life story, about a downtrodden lower middle class woman going through life in Toyko. And I guess the story still is. But with a talking monkey in it as well. It’s good to see the fires of magical realism are still burning.  It’s a lovely genre. Where the unreality is there to make for an interesting story and also to heighten and examine the issues of the characters. In the end, it is not the fact there is a talking monkey, but what that talking monkey is able to reveal about Mizaki that is the point.

There’s some lovely stories in the collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Just don’t expect that you can guess the ending of a story from its opening pages.

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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Murakami, Haruki


Artists and Models – by Anais Nin – from the collection: Delta of Venus

Photo by Valetina ManjarrezAhh, sex. A good signal that a blogger has looked at his site stats, and wants the fastest method to bring readers back. Oh, and Mum, if you’re reading this post, STOP NOW.

I’m being frivolous of course, (except about the Mum part, I said stop reading) although it is true that Anais Nin originally wrote the pieces in the collection Delta of Venus as pornography. I guess it would be the 1940’s equivalent of writing for Penthouse Letters. But Nin was an artist and couldn’t help herself making her work literary, despite her client’s demand to ‘leave out the poetry and descriptions of anything but sex.’

There is a reason that the stories in the collection are important, and there’s a good reason why I could find the book on the shelf of my local library and not the X-rated video shop four doors up from it (yes, I live in strange neighbourhood.)  The stories examine the sexuality of women in a way that seems as much honest study as titillation.

The story in the collection that most drew me in, was Artists and Models. It is told by a young artist’s model in New York’s Greenwich Village. She poses for Millard, an old sculpture who tells her sexually charged stories from the community of artists he used to live in back in Montparnasse.  The model starts to attend parties in Greenwich Village and she meets John, a successful singer who is married. She begins an affair with him, but he insists she stops modelling. Millard won’t allow her to, and she remains modelling for the old artist. Eventually, she begins an affair too with Millard, the two secret relationships become difficult for her to manage, but she admits she enjoys the danger and the intensity of the situation.

There is freedom in Nin’s stories, a liberation, particularly in the stories Millard tells of Montparnasse. It seems at the same time rules such as fidelity are being broken down, even older rules are being enforced, such as men’s ownership of women. Nin is exploring ideas in a world that is so heavily stigmatised that even if she found any type of answer, it would be shouted down. In a lot of ways, we have progressed only marginally from the time in which Nin was writing. In an era of explicit rap videos and advertising, where sex is constantly flashed in front of us, we are still no nearer to understanding what true sexuality is or means.

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Posted by on November 13, 2011 in Nin, Anais


Water From the Sun – by Bret Easton Ellis – From the collection: The Informers

Elise by Damien MorysThe age of a writer is a funny thing. Bret Easton Ellis blazed onto the scene at 21; certainly a tender age, one that branded him an enfant terrible and a writer capable of channelling the dark zeitgeist of the consumerist eighties. Even now, a writer in his forties, there seems to be an expectation on him to produce the same rebellious celebrations of shallow youth.

Reading Elllis’s collection, The Informers, reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work. Both writers were young, intelligent men dissecting the lives of the wealthy around and above them. Ellis’s stories here are about young people with fast luxury cars, Betamax Video Recorders (hey, beta at one stage was cutting edge) and cocaine.  A decay is present too though, the characters of the stories are troubled and unhappy despite what their money (or their parent’s money in most cases) can bring.

My favourite story from the collection was Water From the Sun. It contrasts a middle aged woman to her young, toy boy lover. Cheryl is a late night news presenter. She has recently divorced from her husband, William and is seeing, Danny, a nineteen year old college student who lives off his rich father. The story starts after Danny finds his friend has been murdered by ‘a breakdancer at the Odyssey on the night of the Duran Duran look-alike contest.’ This seems to deal a blow to Danny that sees him estrange himself from Cheryl. Not that he seems ever to have offered the support that Cheryl needs.

Cheryl seems burnt-out. She keeps the phone off the hook so she won’t hear from her ex-husband. She wants a vacation from her news schedule, but her agent is powerless to organise her one. Eventually Danny goes, leaving a scribbled note in her apartment to let Cheryl know.

One thing that really appeals from Ellis’s work is the portrayal of Los Angeles and Hollywood as set in a desert. The mentions of tumbleweed, the scenes of driving through the dry terrain drive home the alienation of the people. His female characters often seem a victim of the glitz around them, as though it is binding them and dragging them down like quicksand.

I was impressed by the collection, just as I’m sure the critics were at the time, at the strength and maturity of his voice. A big thank you to my work colleague who let me the collection, I can see why Ellis is her favourite author.

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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Ellis, Bret Easton