The Shinagawa Monkey by Haruki Murakami, 2005
The magic trick:
Having the protagonist telling a story to another character
Here we are, our fifth and final Murakami Friday feature for April. It’s been fun.
Long story today and, honestly, it takes awhile to get interesting. Does it get interesting? I guess? There is a talking monkey. There are stolen identities. I don’t know. It wasn’t my favorite. Things get very weird but they don’t get under your skin like the best surrealism. They just kind of get silly.
The best part of the story is the story-within-the-story about the suicide victim. Murakami is a master of setting up this kind of scenario, where we get a lengthy tangent or significant backstory not from the narration but in an actual conversation between characters. He has his characters tell each other stories so often. Here, it’s the rather drab Mizuki talking about the rather fascinating Yuko to a therapist. It’s true to the story itself but opens up the lens much wider on the narrative. And that’s quite a trick on Murakami’s part.
“I’m very sorry,” the monkey said, speaking for the first time, his voice low but spirited, with almost a musical quality to it.
“He can talk!” Mizuki exclaimed, dumbfounded.
“Yes, I can,” the monkey replied, his expression unchanged. “There’s one other thing I need to apologize for. When I broke into your place to steal the name tags, I helped myself to a couple of bananas. I hadn’t planned to take anything besides the name tags, but I was so hungry, and though I knew I shouldn’t, I ended up snatching two bananas that were on the table. They just looked too good to pass up.”
“The nerve of this guy,” Mr. Sakurada said, slapping the black nightstick in his hands a couple of times. “Who knows what else he swiped. Want me to grill him a little to find out?”
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