First Person Singular Book Review

May 5, 2021 By mk

First Person Singular is Haruki Murakami’s latest collection of short stories, released in Japanese in July 2020 and in English in April 2021. The eight stories include memories of a mysterious old man, a missing poet, music and records, a first lover and literature, a monkey who speaks human, baseball and family, and an unexpected encounter with a woman.

At Kinokuniya Bookshop, Shinjuku in July 2020

At the time of his debut in 1979, Murakami wrote his novels in the first person singular format, which he later developed into the third person plural and singular, but the age of the protagonist in the first person singular was always younger than that of the author at the time.

This short story collection is the author’s first attempt to write a novel in which the narrator is a man of the same age as the author. That makes readers feel as if he or she is reading the personal narrative of the 71-year-old author. All the stories, except the last one, proceed in Murakami’s characteristic narrative style, in which the narrator (the protagonist) recalls his own memories and mixes them up chronologically.

TitleFirst Publication in Japan
1CreamJuly 2018
2On a Stone PillowJuly 2018
3Charlie Parker Plays Bossa NovaJuly 2018
4With the BeatlesAugust 2019
5Confessions of a Shinagawa MonkeyFebruary 2020
6CarnavalDecember 2019
7The Yakult Swallows Poetry CollectionAugust 2019
8First Person SingularJuly 2020 (as a book)

The first seven seemingly unrelated stories come together through the memories of the protagonist’s brain. Like drops of water coming together to form a river, they interact and connect towards the last story, or, more precisely, towards the last line of the final story. To this end, the author’s first-class metaphors, expressions, pedantic metaphors and homages connect with something in each reader’s mind and trigger the reader to spread the wings of his or her own imagination. Each of the stories evokes a sense of the passing of time, the ageing of the protagonist and the prospect of death ahead. However, the stories do not fall into the typical melancholy nostalgia and are sympathetic to young readers.

The readers may feel as if they hear directly from the author about the old man’s geometric questions, the poet whose name he forgot, the great musicians he missed, his first girlfriend, the monkey who spoke to him, his music-loving friends, his memories of his family and where he drank the best beer in Tokyo. And finally, you may feel the presence of the narrative world the author has created as a backdrop to these stories. At the same time, you may feel that you have been shared a tingling sensation that the author has quietly challenged.

The Bungakukai Magazine featuring Murakami’s short stories

Seven of the eight stories were published in the magazine between July 2018 and February 2020, before the book was published. With the exception of the first three stories (‘Cream’, ‘On a Pillow of Stone’ and ‘Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova’), the remaining four stories were credited in the magazine as the ‘First Person Singular Series’. And only the last one, “First Person Singular”, was newly published in this book. This means that Murakami intended to write these short stories for the collection under the title “First Person Singular” and that the collection is not simply a gathering of existing short stories into a book.

Murakami once wrote that novels should be written “out of necessity” and boldly, without regard to meaning. These words are characteristic of Murakami’s novels. They do not offer a conclusion but allow the reader to take something back from the reading experience and ruminate on it in their own minds. This short stories collection is no exception, and without offering a concrete conclusion, each piece is memorable.

If you have already read the book or want to know the background before reading the book, you can read the reviews of each story below. In addition to interpreting the text, I had added some background information on Japanese and Oriental arts and literature, trivia about baseball games, and other things that came to mind when I was reading.