What is it about?
Honestly? I have no clue. This is a novel that has a sense of aboutness rather than an actual, solid point or storyline to it – in this sense, it could be considered an example of postmodernist literature, although the sentiment of the story feels more modernist to me. It follows the life of Hajime, one of the first generation to be born after the end of World War Two, from the age of twelve up until the age of thirty-seven. It especially focuses on the almost unhealthy fixation he has on his first love (a girl he said goodbye too at age twelve called Shimamoto) and how, when she glides back into his life, he’s willing to give up his wife and two daughters to be with her, to relive his youth and snatch back all the wasted years. Meanwhile, he is running two highly successful jazz bars, breaking hearts, getting involved with morally ambiguous stock schemes and listening to classical music.
Is it any good?
This almost feels like a question that I can’t answer, at least not cohesively. Parts of the book I liked, and parts of it I didn’t – I didn’t come away from it with an overall sense of either or the other. Told in the first person, Murakami creates a brilliant narrative voice that feels like you are sat there listening to someone tell you their life story a la Forrest Gump. Hajime’s musings deeply touch the truth of humanity and life, yet somehow manage to avoid pretension. Whilst the language lacks that certain poetic quality that defines Japanese literature, that same sense of poetry is definitely and beautifully present in the narrative. A part of the novel that really touched me is the scene where Shimamoto tells Hajime that they are lovers, even though they have not even properly kissed yet let alone made love – I think it is one of the most romantic and honest sentiments I have ever read. On the downside, I really didn’t like the way the novel portrays women – as the docile, obedient playthings of men (at least, that’s the impression I got). There is also copious of amounts of sex for a book of under two hundred pages, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if every love scene hadn’t made me nearly cringe myself into an early grave. Overall, though, South of the Border, West of the Sun is a peculiar little book that the more reflective and philosophical amongst us are bound to greatly enjoy.
How long did it take to read: four days
This book tastes like: sun-warmed red wine