Category Archives: Murakami, Haruki

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