Book Review: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

“I wish there was a machine that could accurately measure sadness, and display it in numbers that you could record.”
  • Rating: 3.5
  • Published in: May 2017
  • Read in: August 2020

Book Review: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

This collection of short stories was my first dive into Japanese literature. On doing some research, of course, Haruki Murakami was heavily recommended as a gateway to Japanese fiction. I'd heard he wasn't for everyone because his writing can be very bizarre, so I thought a short story collection would give me a good idea about his style. I enjoyed most of the stories in Men Without Women, but I feel that maybe it wasn't the best place to start on doing further research.

I give Men Without Women a 3.5. It's possible I would have given it 4/4.5 if it wasn't for the blatant sexism, which I've since learned is arguably a recurring theme in Murakami's work. Murakami painted these pitiful men who we're supposed to feel sympathy for as they try to figure out life without women (as the title suggests). I might have felt sympathy if the men were not painted as victims of women, or if there was a bit less objectification. Take this line from the very first story Drive My Car as an example:

”She was wearing a man's herringbone jacket that was a bit too heavy for May, brown cotton pants, and a pair of black Converse sneakers. Beneath the white long-sleeved T-shirt under her jacket Kafuku could see her larger-than-average breasts.”

I also might have felt sorry for them if some of the women weren't painted in such an awful light. One woman was a cheater, another was a stalker and a bit of a bullshitter, and another was just passed off from her boyfriend to his best friend because he wasn't feeling it anymore, and thought his friend might like her.

Despite the sexism, I did really enjoy the collection overall, particularly Scheherazade and An Independent Organ, ironically two of the more sexist stories in the collection. In "Scheherazade" a man, for undisclosed reasons, can't leave his house and a woman, who he names Scheherazade, comes to bring him food and supplies, then tends to his sexual needs, after which she tells him stories about her past. Like the man, I found myself completely compelled and bewildered by her stories, one in which she stalks her school crush to the point of entering his house when nobody is home, and one in which she recalls her past life as a lamprey (an ancient fish of some sort).

In An Independent Organ we're told the story of a successful cosmetic surgeon who dates married women, carefully avoiding commitment, until he finally falls in love. However, when the affair comes to an end, his life falls apart with tragic consequences. This story was steeped in loneliness and despair and as a fan of things a little on the macabre side, this story was my favourite of the collection.

Although I feel a bit conflicted about Men Without Women, I enjoyed it overall and Murakami's style of writing was quite refreshing for me. I love the way he creates everyday situations with weird twists. I'm also fond of the way he writes dialogue between characters. It feels like you're listening in on the conversations. For these reasons I'm not going to give up on Murakami yet, I do think I'll read one of his novels next.

Buy the book on Amazon.