I’ve no idea how long this has been sitting, ignored on my shelf. I do think it’s mine, though. I think I bought it second hand from Voltaire and Rosseau at some point. I must write a blog post about that place one day – it’s wonderful. Anyway, finally, eventually I did get around to reading it.
I’ve read two Murakami novels before; Norwegian Wood and After Dark. I loved both of them, especially After Dark. I still want to read Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and I still want to read 1Q84. Because of course I do.
Unfortunately, I just wasn’t so impressed with South of the Border, West of the Sun. It has a few of the classic Murakami tropes; a lonely young man who can’t quite figure out what’s wrong with him, vinyl records, a jazz club, entirely un-erotic sex scenes… no cats that I remember but I’m sure I’m wrong. It’s much more reminiscent of Norwegian Wood than it is of After Dark but if you didn’t know the author you’d have a good chance of guess right.
So what’s wrong? Well, it reads like a study of a horrible, unlikeable and selfish person. The main character is an entirely ordinary man who ruins the lives of every woman he has a relationship with. If you’re not supposed to sympathise with him, if you’re supposed to take it as a lesson to not be like this person then the novel succeeds. I don’t think that’s true, though.
He talks a lot about how he’s not attracted to women everyone else finds stunning but prefers average looking women in whom he sees something special. He also easily justifies sexual encounters outside his marriage which he keeps a secret from his wife (who he insists he loves) but feels no guilt about because he sees them as meaningless. Later when he encounters a women he’s actually interest in he feels guilty about lying to his wife about meeting her, even when nothing really happens. I guess it’s a romance, there’s talk of star crossed lovers, but I’ve never before read a romance where I so much wanted just one of the characters to stay away from everyone*.
That’s not to say the book isn’t interesting. It’s compelling and I read it in just a couple of days (it is also quite short, I guess). I just found it strangely unsatisfying in comparison to his other books. If you’re going to start reading Murakami, don’t start here.
*Romeo and Juliet comes to mind, but I want both of them to stay away from everyone.
4 thoughts on “Book Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun”
I really enjoyed this review! I want to read more of Murikami but can’t think where to begin. I posted a review just yesterday of my thoughts on Sputnik Sweetheart. As its my first Murikami, I am unsure if it follows the tropes you mentioned or not. 🙂
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I haven’t read that one! I’ve heard good things though, and it definitely has a few of the expected Murikami tropes. I hope you enjoy it 🙂
I really enjoyed sputnik’s sweetheart, in my review I discussed why, and the one issue I did have with it. I think he’s potentially a new favourite though!
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