First Person Singular Review (8) First Person SingularMay 5, 2021
*This article includes possible spoiler
Unlike the other stories, ‘First Person Singular’ is not a memoir but an ongoing narrative of the protagonist. This story receives the run-off from the seven stories and concludes the collection.
One day, the protagonist (“I”) happened to decide to wear a suit, but felt uncomfortable in front of the mirror.
Remorse? How should I put it?…I imagine it was like the guilty conscience someone feels who goes through life having embellished a resumé. It might not be illegal, but it’s a misrepresentation that raises a lot of ethical issues.
But against his gut not to, he went for a walk.
In back of the bar was a shelf with an impressive lineup of bottles. And behind that was a large mirror, in which I was reflected. I stared at it for a while, and as you might expect, the me in the mirror stared back. A sudden thought hit me, that somewhere I’d taken a wrong turn in life.
He intuitively begins to realise the cause of his discomfort.
And it wasn’t always like I was making a choice, but more like the choice itself chose me.) And now here I was, a first person singular. If I’d chosen a different direction, most likely I wouldn’t be here. But still—who is that in the mirror?
It echoes what Oshima said to Kafka.
“Kafka, in everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive.” (Kafka on the Shore, Ch.17)
The protagonist has been successful so far, he wears a Paul Smith suit and drinks a vodka gimlet in a bar on a pleasant, quiet spring evening. He has made the right decision at every choice point. He handled well what the young librarian said to the junior high school student in Kafka on the Shore.
However, he noticed something inside him struck the woman the wrong way, jangled her nerves, irritated her.
The wise choice would have been to politely excuse myself,…But for whatever reason, that’s not what I did. Something stopped me. Curiosity, perhaps…But for whatever reason, that’s not what I did. Something stopped me. Curiosity, perhaps.
This scene is a sort of mirror image of the situation when Toru Okada met Kano sisters and talks about Noboru Wataya, the evil symbol in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
“My sister is five years my junior,” she said. “She was defiled by Noboru Wataya. Violently raped.” Terrific. I wanted to get the hell out of there. But I couldn’t just stand up and walk away. (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Book 1, Ch.3)
“Noboru Wataya is a person who belongs to a world that is the exact opposite of yours,” said Creta Kano. (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Book 2, Ch.14)
Creta Kano shook her head. “Hatred is like a long, dark shadow. Not even the person it falls upon knows where it comes from, in most cases. It is like a two-edged sword. When you cut the other person, you cut yourself. (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Book 2, Ch.14)
Wouldn’t it be the ultimate horror if you realised in your old age that the person you hated and fought against in your youth was you? And wouldn’t it be the Extreme Love and the Extreme Loneliness if you realised that you had not only unknowingly hurt people when you were young, but that you had foreseen it out of your consciousness when you fought against that evil to protect the ones you loved? And what if you were asked to pay the consequences of your unknowing actions in the past?
Strangely enough, all I felt at that moment was a kind of resignation. (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Book 2, Ch.9)
But strangely enough, I couldn’t work up any anger. For the moment, a wave of bewilderment and confusion swept over me, swept any sense of logic away.
Murakami’s success story is every writer’s dream, and he may have realised it, but at the same time, he would have realised what he sacrificed to achieve it. In his novels, he repeatedly wrote about people who were senselessly harmed or undermined by ‘evil’. Complicating matters was that the evil was not always external to the protagonist but often reflected what was inside his or her personality.
Murakami is 71 years old, born on 12 January 1949. He has reached the point where he can look back on his vast past and weave a story out of the fragments of his memories. What makes his novels different from the depressing memoirs of an old man is his mastery of sublimating memories into a delicate story and drawing the reader into his narrative world with a refreshing view of things and a literary attitude.
And all the seemingly unrelated stories in this collection come together through the memories in the protagonist’s brain, which reflect the author’s persona. Like drops of water coming together to form a river, the detailed elements of each novel interact and connect towards the final line of the last story.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” the woman said.
Mieko Kawakami is an Akutagawa Prize-winning author who, while working in a bookshop at the age of 19, participated in a charity public reading for earthquake victims in Kobe, Japan, by Haruki Murakami, and later became a writer. In 2017, Kawakami interviewed Murakami for the book “The Owl Spreads Its Wings with the Falling of the Dusk.” In the book, Murakami talked in a casual tone about what he wanted her to remember one day after he was gone.
Kawakami: You have won many awards; what about the (posthumous) “Haruki Murakami Award”?
Murakami: I’m not interested in that at all.
Kawakami: I see. May I make one?
Murakami: No, I don’t want to.
Kawakami: Okay, I’ll be sure to record “No” (laughs).
Murakami: That’s right. Please do so. Please don’t give out any award with my name on it. Scholarships and things like that are fine, but please don’t make an award or anything like that.
(The Owl Spreads Its Wings with the Falling of the Dusk, 2017)
The novel “Where Have All the Sundays Gone?” written by Mieko Kawakami, which begins with the line “I was lying in bed when I learned of the novelist’s death”, presents an imaginary but possible future event without falling into mundane sentimentality.
Murakami is far more active, fit and athletic than many of the younger generation worldwide, at least when it comes to long-distance running. He has run at least one full marathon a year for 37 consecutive years; in 2020, when most running events were cancelled due to the coronavirus, he set himself a 42.195km course to run. Murakami’s friend, Professor Shinya Yamanaka (winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine), also set up a similar course in a remote location, set off at exactly the same time as Murakami and ran the same distance. Murakami can still drive a classic Porsche around a circuit track (which may surprise those who know the physical strength and reflexes required to do so). But in the meantime, he is preparing for the moment when he will close his life.
This collection of short stories is part of what is reflected in the mind of the author, and the last story is worth being present at the end of the book, leaving a sense of continuity for his next work. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to experience such a literary sequence in real time as a reader?