BY HARUKI MURAKAMI
His stories deal with dissatisfaction with a heavily mechanised consumer driven society, people are disorientated, out of balance with what they perceive their lives should be, they are haunted by a lack of equilibrium & an aching sense of some loss. There's the sense of something dead in the relationship of the couple in the 1st tale, the overwhelming hunger of the pair in the 2nd, which results in them robbing a McDonalds for burgers. In The Sleep, a housewife hasn’t slept for 17 days & doesn’t tell a soul, she spends this time reading books & at some point sees her mother in law in the sleeping face of her husband, realising how far apart they’ve drifted, & in the title story the narrator has an obsession over an elephant & its subsequent vanishing, to the extent he has a scrapbook on the subject & even where there's a possible love interest he cannot leave the subject alone even when there's no interest from this other party.
Murakami creates these worlds that, just below the surface, just outside the corner of your eye lays another version of reality, not an alternate version, more like boxes within boxes. These are modern fairytales, where instead of being lost in some ancient woodland, where your trail of crumbs home have been eaten, the hero/heroine is lost in Tokyo, with a tenuous (if lucky) connection to the life about them, sometimes devoid of a work relationship, sometimes family/tradition. It’s in this world that green monsters swear undying love, dancing dwarves help you to score with a girl, but there’s always some condition. Its a world
where an aura of surrealism looks over your shoulder, where cause & effect change places. A place where what you imagined happening is just as valid as the memory of what happened, as in my favourite tale - On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl, One Beautiful April Morning. This tiny story of just 6 pages, where the narrator on passing his 100% perfect girl (her walking east to west & him west to east), doesn’t stop & talk to her. Later on, describing this to someone, he wished he could have stopped her. He then tells this tale complete with, Once upon a time, about 2 people perfect for each other meeting, & how it’s a sad tale. This is a beautiful, funny, sad story that I adored (In fact I read it twice over) that perfectly describes the human relationships within this book.
The Vanishing Elephant is a collection of stories & modern fairytales, that are darkly comic. They are full of lonely fragmented people, that live a puzzled dislocated existence. Some are shallow with little interior life; others have a deep yearning for meaning & self fulfilment. It’s in these tales, sometimes snuck between the lines, that the Murakami magic happens, where the humorous & puzzling tales highlight the absurdities in modern life & by the use of satire points to the mundanity of the daily merry-go-round that is our lives.
- The wind-up bird & Tuesday’s women.
- The second bakery attack.
- On seeing the 100% perfect girl, one beautiful April morning
- The fall of the Roman empire. The 1881 Indian uprising. Hitler's invasion of Poland
- Barn burning.
- The little green monster.
- Family affair.
- A window.
- TV people.
- A slow boat to china.
- The dancing dwarf.
- The last lawn of the afternoon.
- The silence.
- The Elephant vanishes.