Sleep by Haruki Murakami, 1989
The magic trick:
Building the story around a simple symbol
Murakami likes to do this thing where something simple stands in for a complicated problem. His characters eat too much crab (“Crabs”) or have spaghetti obsessions (“The Year Of Spaghetti”) or don’t have any food at all (“The Second Bakery Attack”). Here, our protagonist eats just fine. Her problem is she doesn’t sleep.
But what’s really going on?
A whole lot. Marital problems, identity crises, you name it.
There’s plenty of room for the reader to consider the situation. We’re reading about sleep but we’re not really reading about sleep at all. And that’s quite a trick on Murakami’s part.
So that’s my life – or my life before I stopped sleeping – each day pretty much a repetition of the one before. I used to keep a diary, but I forgot for two or three days, I’d lose track of what happened on which day. Yesterday could have been the day before yesterday, or vice versa. I’d sometimes wonder what kind of life this was. Which is not to say that I found it empty. I was – very simply – amazed. At the lack of demarcation between the days. At the fact that I was part of such a life, a life that had swallowed me up so completely. At the fact that my footprints were being blown away before I even had a chance to turn and look at them.
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