maandag 2 januari 2012

Haruki Murakami - De olifant verdwijnt

Although I read The elephant vanishes in Dutch (De olifant verdwijnt), my review will be in English. This is because Gnoe and I wanted to review the book together. Somehow, we haven't managed to do so so far, we always seem to have too much to chat about :-)

The second bakery attack/De tweede broodjesroof
A great start to the Dutch version of "The elephant vanishes": "de tweede broodjesroof", a story about a newly wed couple that mysteriously wakes up in the middle of the night, starving. Of course they find nothing in their fridge but a few cans of beer, and while they drink their beer, the husband tells his wife about an remarkably similar hunger attack when he was young. On that occasion, he and his friend robbed a bakery to satisfy their hunger... or rather, they planned to rob a bakery. The baker told them they could take all the bread they wanted, if only they listened to a record of overtures by Wagner. The wife thinks that their present state is caused by the failure to rob the bakery in the past, and so, she deduces, they must rob another bakery to make amends. However, when they set out to do so, the only bakery they find is a McDonald's restaurant...
A true Murakami-story, in which food and love are in some way connected. The antagonist accepts without hesitation all the really strange things that happen to him. For instance, the fact that his wife happens to own a Remmington-rifle and the right type of ammo, does not seem to alarm him. Nor does the fact that she owns black ski-masks. How well does one know one's spouse, especially if you have been married only for a short period of time?

TV People/TV People
Yet another great story! This one tells the story of a man, married for four years (in Maruakami's stories the number of years that the antagonists have been married is always mentioned and of importance). On sundays, he usually does nothing but feel awful. On a particular sunday however, while his wife is out with friends, and he is lying on the couch, suddenly three small persons walk in the door, carrying a tv. They install the tv and switch it on: it shows only a white screen. When his wife comes home, later that evening, she doesn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. The next day, the TV-People walk around his office, carrying yet another tv. Nobody seems to notice them. And after work, at home, the TV-people return whereas his wife doesn't.
Strange story, very Murakami-like. The disappearance of one's wife is a theme he has used before (Wind-up bird chronicles) and the TV-people reminded me of the Little People from 1q84...

The dancing dwarf/De dansende dwerg
In Murakami's world, the boundary between dream and reality is paper-thin...
The third story in the Dutch translation of The elephant vanishes is called "The dancing dwarf". A man dreams about a dwarf, dancing his socks off. The dwarf predicts that this is not just a dream, they will be meeting out in the woods, where the dwarf lives. And so will the man. The dwarf promises that the girl working at the same factory as the man that nobody ever impresses, will be impressed by him, through his dancing. The only thing he has to do is lend his body to the dwarf. And keep his mouth firmly shut throughout the whole dance. If he utters even a single sound, his body will become the dwarf's. Luckily, the man has been warned by one of his ancient colleagues. But even though he gets to keep his own body, the way in which he has danced has alarmed the authorities and he has to go live out in the woods. Just like the dwarf predicted...
Funny detail in the story the factory both the man and the girl he wants to impress work in: the factory produces elephants. Or rather, the factory dilutes elephants to save the species from becoming extinct. The production of an elephant has been described in a very funny, yet somehow convincing way.

Barn burning/Schuurtjes in brand steken
The fourth story, "Barn burning", was my least favorite story. A young man meets a young girl, who studies pantomime. When her father dies, she uses the inheritance to travel to the north of Africa. When she comes back, she takes a man with her, a rather mysterious man that seems rich but where his money comes from nobody knows "Hij lijkt Fitzgeralds Great Gatsby wel, dacht ik: de raadselachtige rijke jonge man van wie niemand precies weet wat hij doet." (sorry about the Dutch quote! In English it will probably be something like: He seems like Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, I thought: a mysterious rich young man about whom noboday exactly knows what he does). The man confesses to the protagonist to burning barns every now and then: bizarrely enough to 'om de moraliteit in stand te houden'. More or less like Dexter needs his kills, this man needs to burn down barns. He tells that he has already targeted his next barn, not far from the house our protagonist lives. This induces a feverish search by our protagonist: running through the neighbourhood every morning to check out the five potential targets. However, although the mystery-man assures him that the barn he targeted burned, no barns in the immediate vicinity has burned down. On the other hand, the pantomime-girl disappears...
Why is this my least favorite story? I have no idea. It feels dark, humourless, whereas the rest of the stories have some kind of light feeling to them. I think that must be it.

The elephant vanishes/De olifant verdwijnt
The fifth story however, the Elephant vanishes, I enjoyed reading very much. When the local zoo closes, all the animals are sold off to other zoos. All but an elderly elephant. He is housed in an old gym, with his elderly keeper. One day, however, both the elephant and his keeper have mysteriously disappeared... The whole town is in an uproar: with such a dangerous animal on the loose, the children are being kept indoors. When a few days later, the elephant still hasn't been found, life return to normal for the town's inhabitants. Except for the protagonist of the story, who even loses a prospective girlfriend worrying.
Again a disappearance and it's impact on the lives of ordinary people, one of Murakami's regular themes.

The wind-up bird and tuesday's women/Opwindvogels en dinsdagse vrouwen
The final story in the Dutch edition of The elephant vanishes is "The wind-up bird and tuesday's women", that forms the basis of The wind-up bird chronicle". I am very glad Murakami has used this particular story to write one of his biggest novels. My second Murakami, which I will reread in April. Looking forward to that already!

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