”…I didn’t understand then…that I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.”
I am a huge Murakami fan and read and enjoyed “South of the Borders, west of the Sun” on my last flight to Germany. Whenever I read a Murakami book, it seems I am stepping right back into a somewhat similar world or on familiar ground (usually similar characters) which gives me a certain kind of comfort. With Murakami and his books, you can easily follow this bingo:
Even thought all this is usually clear when reading Murakami, he never fails to impress me with his descriptions of feelings and mood. This novel draws you into a world that seems to be all his. It is full of relationship, possibilities as well as connections that makes the reader feel he can relate. It is about his memories or wishes it seems but then again the reader gets somehow strangely involved.
In “South of the Border, West of the Sun” you will get thrown (as a Murakami reader) into an all so familiar Murakami plot where some lonely man listens to classical or jazz music and who is also attracted to mysterious women who just seem to have this urge to destroy.
About the plot: The protagonist is Hajime, who is a man in his late thirties and seems to be in some type of mid-life crisis. He is “happily” married but he remembers or is even haunted by memories of his childhood with a woman, Shimamoto, he longed for. This woman was the only one he was ever really close to. They listened to music together, were best friends, talked for hours, did everything together and then, strangle, their ways parted at age twelve. Then, of course, she suddenly reappears in his life giving him hope again by talking about some sort of closeness and giving him promises that seem to confuse Hajime completely. This is no story about typical adultery. This couple shares so much more and have so much in common. It makes both protagonists discover themselves throughout this journey of meeting occasionally at Hajime’s Jazz bar by talking for hours and sharing memories. Will they end up being together?
The reader will discover their insecurities, justifications, regrets as well as significant self-discovery. It shows clearly the loneliness of one protagonist and an obsession of simple touch, longing, nostalgia as well as some type of cathartic about it all. Hajime meets with Shimamoto regularly and it seems that he just waits for fate to strike at some point because he does not really know where this relationship will take him. He does not know what to do with it, he does not know what these kids of feelings really are. He simply knows, he needs to be with this woman even though he is married, has two kids and would lose it all (probably) in a heartbeat whenever his wife finds out about it. He does not mind that the cards he had been dealt with in his life are actually pretty good because he is a drifter and dreamer who simply floats through it all. He has money, however, he is not properly anchored it seems because of all these haunting memories of Shimamoto. He does not address these problems with his wife but meets his Shimamoto and whenever he does he is completely fulfilled and content but still does not have the guts to address it to the person he is married to. It is very interesting to watch the world through his eyes and sensing his guilt and at the same time his cravings for this woman.
[Tiny spoiler]: I don’t want to give too much away here but we never find out what Shimamoto is all about, what she did all these years since both protagonist met again. Even after she met Hajime again, she just disappears constantly with all remains unexplained. It all makes it somewhat dreamlike and gives this novel quality.
At the end of the novel, the readers can fill in the blanks themselves which is what I like most about fiction. I don’t need a happy or sad ending. The ability to make your own fantasies is great. I reckon, this is why I love Murakami so much; he is an amazing author who has the capability to draw me to a brilliant plot setup and keeps me there, hanging, longing for more, thinking, feeling, wishing, wondering how I would react or decide in these decisions.
Read this book if you love a quite distinct novel on language on the topic of adultery. Also, if you like emotions, thought, culture, knowledge but also melancholy, dissociation and if you keep in mind and realize that nothing is ever permanent and life is a consistent change.