The Magical Realism Of Haruki Murakami’s First Person Stories: Singular

Haruki Murakami's latest work is another beautiful exploration of the magical realism genre.
The latest Haruki Murakami Novel
Credit to Penguin Random House

Magical realism is a rather tricky genre for people to get invested in, mostly because of how hard it is for the average person to define.

Essentially, magical realism is the telling of a realistic story with fantastical elements, but the fantastical elements are downplayed, sometimes not even real, and are used primarily to enhance the realistic aspects of the story.

The end result is a story that’s not fully realistic and not fully fantastical, something in-between all of that, and as a result, it ends up not only being confusing for readers to define but a challenge for writers to properly write while properly toeing the line between fantasy and reality.

One writer who is able to successfully maintain that balance, however, is the world-renowned novelist Haruki Murakami, and his most recent venture into the genre, First Person Singular: Stories, does as great of a job of keeping to that as his other works.

The Weirdness That is Haruki Murakami

First Person Singular Stories is a collection of first-person short stories that tell various stories of the narrators’ encounter with something bizarre that helped give them a new perspective on life, save for “The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection”, which is more of an autobiographical retrospective on Murakami’s life. That basic framework of a plot is Murakami’s specialty, and as a result, you pretty much get exactly what you expect out of Murakami from these stories: subdued, contemplative works with a touch of the surreal.

The exact stories that utilize that basic summary wildly varies in terms of plot. There’s a man down on his luck going to a ghost town, a fake record being willed into existence that ends with Charlie Parker playing said record in a dream, an encounter with a man who spontaneously suffers from long gaps in his memory once or twice a year, a talking monkey who steals the names of human women because he’s physically incapable of loving them, and a case of mistaken identity leading to the narrator being harassed at a bar that’s framed like he might have actually done something without even knowing it.

Interestingly, not all of the stories in this collection fall squarely into magical realism; the previously mentioned “The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection” is one, but the story of a narrator’s romance with a poet and the story of a narrator’s friendship with an ugly woman is all largely rooted in reality, the surrealism largely stemming from how odd some of the circumstances of their respective plots are.

What ends up following in each case is a story that’s able to embody a surreal state of being without forgetting its roots in realism, even the stories that aren’t strictly magical realism. Through the implementation of surreal atmospheres, Murakami is able to emphasize the realistic nature of the trials and tribulations that the narrators go through, which leads to the nature of their problems becoming all the more defined and further highlights the need to overcome them. That’s exactly what magical realism is meant to do, and in that regard, First Person Singular: Stories does exactly what it needs to do.

If You Can’t Understand Without An Explanation, Then You Won’t Understand With An Explanation

At the end of the day, all of the stories in the collection end up being quintessentially Murakami. The stories are introspective with a bit of melancholy interwoven between the pages, and at the end of them all, even if the narrator doesn’t end up making any sort of big changes to their life, they still come out learning something new about the world and themselves. That, on its own, is what a Murakami story is all about, and the stories in First Person Singular: Stories being able to encapsulate all of that shows that the man hasn’t lost his touch after all of these years even a little, and that’s something to be happy about.

Haruki Murakami, the Japanese writer
Haruki Murakami
A freelance writer with a love of pop culture, Japanese culture, and anything with a weird aesthetic to it.

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