A surreal coming-of-age tale that establishes Ryu Murakami as one of the most inventive young writers in the world today.
Abandoned at birth in adjacent train station lockers, two troubled boys spend their youth in an orphanage and with foster parents on a semi-deserted island before finally setting off for the city to find and destroy the women who first rejected them. Both are drawn to an area of freaks and hustlers called Toxitown. One becomes a bisexual rock singer, star of this exotic demimonde, while the other, a pole vaulter, seeks his revenge in the company of his girlfriend, Anemone, a model who has converted her condominium into a tropical swamp for her pet crocodile.
Together and apart, their journey from a hot metal box to a stunning, savage climax is a brutal funhouse ride through the eerie landscape of late-twentieth-century Japan
This is a very strange read; strange in a way you wouldn’t expect. The story is weird, the characterisation is weird, the tone is weird, and yet somehow, it’s a novel that’s oddly consistent. There’s a lot going on here; a lot. The book is choc full of characters and plot changes, and the content isn’t easy to read in subject, style or structure. A quick summery would be ‘whack-a-doodle’, but unlike many Japanese contemporary novels known internationally, this is a form of ‘whack-a-doodle’ you won’t quite comprehend for a large portion of the story. Seriously, it’s all kinds of ‘huh?’.
It’s obvious Murakami (no, not that Murakami, the other Murakami) is trying to make a bold statement, but there’s so much going on the message is often as easy to find as an elephant among elephants. There’s so much to take from the story that everything becomes a little washed out. Sometimes you’ll get the point of what is happening, and sometimes you won’t. Paragraphs have a habit of rattling on (to the point of skimming), and often minor details that needn’t have been included have three or four lines dedicated to them. However, it’s a guarantee, this isn’t a story you will have experienced before. It’s nice to read a book that isn’t afraid to go anywhere or do anything in terms of plot, and yet keeps its narrative comprehension entirely intact. The tone is almost flippant, like it doesn’t care what the reader will think, and in terms of matching its subject matter, it works really well. This style won’t be for everyone, and it does take some getting used to, but it’s very unique.
There are some grotesque scenes, but the tone of writing actually removes from the over-all shock value. Not all the violence seems necessary. There are definitely a few odd little sex scenes that could easily have been removed. Sometimes it felt like vile moments had been added simply for the ‘shock’ factor. If nothing else, Murakami (no not that Murakami, the other, other Murakami) definitely wants to shock. He doesn’t always succeed, especially as the book continues. It’s a very masculine read; not a single female character (major or minor) gets through the novel un-sexualised, and again, I’m not entirely sure if I grasped the point of this. Most of the characters are very unrealistic, especially the women; I found the female lead annoying and un-relatable, and most of the men fall into the same masculine-asshole stereotype, creating a flavourless lump where often one can’t be distinguished from another. Perhaps this was intentional? The main characters, however, are the drive of the story; it’s hard not to care about what happens to them, despite the fact they’re often unlikeable. Their tale is a backward coming-of-age story, stressing the issues of childhood trauma and identity. It’s a dance through male insanity, exploring matriarchal bonds. At least, that’s what I got.
If you like weird (really weird), and you’re into contemporary Japanese fiction give this a go; it’s unique, it has some well-written scenes, and it’s dark without being on an ego trip. You can take from it a number of interpretations, and the darker angle on Japanese culture is interesting. Give it a miss if you’re easily offended.