Dance Dance Dance, by Haruki Murakami

I’m trying to bone up on my modern geeklit, and Murakami’s one of those names that comes up as authentically literary fiction. I picked this one up more-or-less at random, and have a fairly nebulous idea of how it fits into his ouevre (it’s apparently a follow-up, in a shared-world sense, to a previous trilogy, although it stands on its own). It collects a variety of themes and styles into one place: the overall tone felt neo-noir, but the plot wanders through a very mildly fantastic urban adventure, dwelling chiefly on the futility of most modern vocations (almost all the adults in the story seem to be heartily dissatisfied with their jobs) and the illusions people maintain out of cultured civility. It’s ultimately a character study, about how our narrator and his entire social circle lead unspoken lives, and that their own lives only begin to make sense when they delve deeply into others’ lives. It’s a strange story, shot through with elements of the fantastic and a sense of a Big Picture which is never entirely revealed, which is mildly disappointing: it’s possible that the overall purpose is better revealed in light of its prequels. But even taken in ignorance of what the big lead-up is to, it’s a book with comfortable and pleasing themes, seeing the narrator grow closer to others and gain a greater comfort in his own skin and a greater contentment thereby.

I very much liked the style of the work as well as its overall structure. There’s a combination of the frenzied and the relaxed that makes it work, that in the midst of crisis and adventure the protagonist has time and energy for minutiae, in a way that reminds me, perhaps irrationally, of the emphasis on the minute in The Mezzanine. There’s a strong sensory sense in the narrator’s memories of the women he’s known, and of the places he’s been, which may explain the comparison to some extent.

Mostly, I just found this book to be an effortless page-turner, though. The narrator is sympathetically thoughtful, and his world is peopled with largely flawed but enjoyably deep personalities. There are bits that are odd bonuses for me: seeing the narrator mention the Beach Boys wasn’t wholly surprising, as the book’s named after one of their songs, but seeing a mention of the obscure 1971 Surf’s Up album— well, in truth it made me certain, if nothing else, that Murakami takes pride in his acquaintance with obscurities, which is a fine, geeky thing to do. Wandering from the obscure into the overly twee, I’m not sure I can really approve of the inclusion of a succesful but self-loathing novelist named Makimura; that’s maybe a little too self-indulgent.

See also: Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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