Review of The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami

I'm embarrassed to admit that I picked this book up on a whim. At the time, recommendations from friends felt too familiar, so I asked the staff at Brookline Booksmith to find me a good read, with the hopes of discovering something I wouldn't otherwise find. At the time, Murakami hadn't hit big yet — for Literary values of big, that is, not Stephanie Meyer big. I owe that bookseller a great debt.

So I'll just get this out of the way early: Haruki Murakami [*] is an incredible writer. He is as good as anyone writing today.

His tone, his choices of words and details, his characters, his subject matter all knock me flat.

His ability to mix the mundane and the surreal is unearthly.

On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning is one of my all-time favorite stories. I can't think of a better use of six pages.

Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl — one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you're drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I'll catch myself staring at the table next to mine because I like the shape of her nose.

Murakami can perfectly capture the weird, bizarre, alien nature that is other people, internalize it, and then present it in a way that's endearing. I rarely feel the inherent narration in such descriptions, but more that I'm actually reading another person's thoughts. His writing is compassionate and cold. Embarrassing and revealing. Every time I read him, I have to mentally prepare for it, because it's a full meal.

From "The Elephant Vanishes":

For example, the [newspaper] article used such expressions as "the elephant escaped," but if you look at the entire piece it became obvious that the elephant had in no way "escaped." It had vanished into thin air. The reporter revealed his own conflicted state of mind by saying that a few "details" remained "unclear," but this was not a phenomenon that could be disposed of by using such ordinary terminology as "details" or "unclear," I felt.

I've read a good number of his books, and have purposefully left the remainder of them queued. They're a ready antidote to that disappointed feeling that lingers after reading a couple of books I didn't enjoy. When I need to read something great — not good, great — Murakami is my choice.

I give The Elephant Vanishes to anyone who I want to know better with regard to their reading taste. If the person likes it, it's a green flag. If not, it's a yellow flag. Some things in life, I simply cannot imagine anyone disliking. Like the sensation of showering after a long day. Reading this book is that for me; I have a hard time understanding how someone could not like it.

Amazon link: The Elephant Vanishes