Murakami and Me: The Break Up

I am an avid no, I used to be an avid Murakami fan. I have read fifteen of the books he has written and own all of them. I was in my early twenties the first time I read a book by him and I didn’t get the subtleties in his prose or the quiet drama of his suburban settings then. But there was something about the way his stories unfurled, like the petals of a flower, that drew me in and kept me reading.

I grew up and grew more aware of myself as a woman, as a woman in a world that doesn’t treat women too well. I searched for reflections in literature–I am constantly searching for reflections in literature and other media I consume. Infrequently, I find one and more frequently, I see women in literature (usually written by men) who are nothing but expressions of male desire.

Look, Murakami is a literary giant. He is on everyone’s favourite list (well okay, almost everyone) and with good reason. His books have a starry quality to them but to like his books, you have to accept that the female characters in them are not going to be much more than passive, agency-less beings who have no function but to build the male MC’s character or fulfill his desire. I, sadly, did accept it.

But as I grow older, I become less willing to be complacent. I compromise less on things that I consume whether they be books or food. Early last year I tried reading Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun and gave up, disgusted by the way female characters were treated in the book. However, I’m always the optimist and decided that his newest book (which is what brought about this ‘review’ of sorts, to be honest) would be worth checking out. The lovely people at PRH Canada sent me a review copy and I am truly sorry I cannot oblige unless this counts as a sort of review because I seriously could not and I tried. The book upset me so much it became a bad idea to read it.

If you follow book news, you will already know that Killing Commendatore was shortlisted for an award for the worst sex scene in a literary novel. It might have won the award, I don’t know. What I do know that as I read the novel, I often had to pause because Murakami’s treatment of his very few female characters is so atrocious. What broke the camel’s back though was the way in which the MC of the novel describes his sister and that’s all I going to say because I am still disturbed by the entire thing.

This article is an attempt to articulate what I feel is one of my resolutions for this year…to no longer accept problematic sh….things just because the rest of the stuff is good. Nope. No more. So if this means Murakami and I have to call it quits, that’s okay. I enjoyed his books when I could read them but the person I am now can no longer ignore (important) things for the sake of the story.