Men without Women Review(4) Scheherazade

November 12, 2021 By mk

*This article includes possible spoiler

Confined Habara can only see Scheherazade, 35 years old married woman with children. Even though he is locked in, Habara puts the chain lock on the door himself. Then he looks out of the window at Scheherazade’s blue car.

The situation is not ordinary confinement, and it is not clear whether there is an internal or external reason for it. However, Habara does not go out by himself and waits for Scheherazade. Under these extraordinary circumstances, Scheherazade casually tells her story and leaves.

The keywords that the author has embedded in the text allow us to read what lies behind this open-ended mysterious story.

The Love Burglar: Sheharazade’s view

Scheherazade calls herself “Love Burglar”. She stole a little stuff and left her things in return, except when she just stole a shirt without leaving anything behind and became just a burglar.

I was the Love Burglar, after all.” The Love Burglar? It sounded to Habara like the title of a silent film.

“Love Burglar” is the literal translation of the Japanese phrase “ai-no-tozoku,” translated title of “Loupežník (The Robber)”, a play written by Czech writer, Karel Čapek (1890-1938).

In the play, Čapek portrays the defeat of youth; a young burglar and the professor’s daughter fall in love, but the professor locks her up so that she cannot see him. The burglar makes his way into the house; however, he is finally driven out.

One of the themes of this play is ‘lost youth’. Čapek wrote the play’s first draft before the First World War and completed it after the war. In the preface, Čapek wrote;

Jaká radost a jaký pych je to, cítit se mladou generací! cítit se novotářem, dobyvatelem, loupežníkem života! Jak svěží je nezákonnost, jak hrdinně se nese tíha neodpovědnosti! Ale když se k vám autor vracel s první verzí v kapse, viděl, že také vy jste se rozloučili s onou mladostí. Loupežník zůstal troskou, jíž scházel konec.

What a joy and what a pride it is to feel oneself a young generation! to feel oneself a neophyte, a conqueror, a robber of life! How fresh is the lawlessness, how heroically the weight of irresponsibility is borne! But when the author came back to you with the first draft in his pocket, you too had parted with that youth. The robber was left a wreck that lacked an end.

“Loupežník (The Robber)”

When she was a teenager, Scheherazade’s defeat came in the simple but ensuring form of replacing the lock Although her own attempts were blocked, Scheherazade felt relieved. Her story is a confession of her own crimes, but she backs down when the lock is changed. It was as if she decided not to cross a certain line.

Quickly, she had the lock replaced. Her instincts had been unerring, her reaction swift. Scheherazade was, of course, disappointed by this development, but at the same time she felt relieved.

The “lock” serves as a metaphor and is loosely connected to the other stories. It’s as if a person’s attitude who comes up against the barrier of a lock will determine the rest of their life.

The Love Burglar was published and performed in Prague in 1920, five years after Franz Kafka wrote: “The Metamorphosis” in which the transformed protagonist managed to open the locked door (and in Murakami’s “Zamza in Love” (2013), the protagonist fell in love with the locksmith).

Why does 35-year-old Scheherazade keep talking about her teenage years? Is it because she is nostalgic for the “defeat of youth”? Alternatively, does Habara, who opens the lock for her, remind her of old memories?

Many of Karel Čapek’s works have been translated into Japanese, and there is even a teahouse named after him.

It is in Kichijoji where “Sumire was living in a one-room apartment in Kichijoji where she made do with the minimum amount of furniture and the maximum number of books. (Sputnik Sweetheart, Ch.1)

By the way, not a few people who read this story might be reminded of the scene in the 1994 Hong Kong film, Chunking Express where the heroine sneaks into the room of the man she loves and sleeps on his bed alone, although the end result of the film is completely different from Sheherazade.

The Thread: Habara’s view

The author uses the analogy of a thread to describe the situation in which Habara worried that he would never see Scheherazade again.

In other words, they were attached, and barely at that, by a slender thread. It was likely—no, certain—that that thread would eventually be broken.

The thread has been used since ancient times as a metaphor to show the connection between people. However, it is often used in situations of “unfulfilled wishes to meet again”, and Murakami seems to be following this tradition.

For example, in the Tale of Ise, “thread” is presented as an allegory to show the reality of a man’s unrequited love and a woman’s ability to easily break it off, as Scheherazade did so.

A long time ago, a man sent a poem to a woman with whom he had had a relationship some years ago.
Like a linen thread spun on a spool in time immemorial,
can’t we rewind back to where we were,
and make the past into the present?
But his poem made no impression on her.

The Tale of Ise, Ch.32

Murakami concludes the story with the words of an irresolute Habara, who says to himself.

To lose all contact with women was, in the end, to lose that connection.

If Habara sincerely wants to continue the relationship with Sheherazade, he should act in some way. However, he never does and just waits, like a lamprey.

Scenes from the Tales of Ise
The “Thread” poem was beloved by many, most famously in the 12th century when Shizuka Gozen (Lady Shizuka) danced while singing. The scene is still performed repeatedly as a part of a popular Kabuki play.

Shizuka Gozen (1891)

The Lamprey: their relationship

“I was a lamprey eel in a former life,” Scheherazade said once…”
“Lampreys think very lamprey-like thoughts. About lamprey-like topics in a context that’s very lamprey-like. There are no words for those thoughts.

As is usual with Murakami’s novels, there is no explanation of what lamprey means. Scheherazade tells him that in her former life she was the fish with no jaws, a parasite on trout, and Habara somehow wishes he could have been a lamprey himself.

Without any explanation of why Habara is isolated and why Scheherazade visits him, readers have to accept the setting and listen to Scheherazade’s story.

I don’t know what the actual behaviour of the lamprey is in terms of bio-ecology, but the lamprey in the story is not active, but just passive, accepting the situation and waiting for its target to come.

We, readers, consume the strange behaviour of strange people in the form of a story. We may think that we are observing the characters as if we were looking at an aquarium from above.

If we think that it is the natural right of a reader, it may be a sign that we are on the verge of becoming a lamprey, gazing up at the bright surface of the water. The only difference is whether you’re looking at it from the top or the bottom of the aquarium. In any sense, we are passively consuming the story supplied by the author.

The relationship between Habara and Scheherazade is fragile. It is not clear why she should come to Habara, and it could be terminated one day.

This includes the possibility that she herself no longer needs to come sometime in the future. Habara, on the other hand, is unilaterally dependent on Scheherazade.

Thinking in a lamprey-like way, Scheherazade may need Habara to get back to her 17-year-old self. And yet she is aware that she herself has become indispensable to Habara.

It is even possible that the trout, while offering its own flesh to the lamprey, actually needs the lamprey for some reason. Or perhaps only those lampreys, that managed to convince the trout that they needed lampreys, survived.

What his time spent with women offered was the opportunity to be embraced by reality, on the one hand, while negating it entirely on the other.

Habara is preparing for loss. But he does not do anything on his own. He just closes his eyes. It is also another lamprey-like attitude towards life.

A lamprey is used in medicine as a tonic and, like an eel, is also edible. There are only a few restaurants in Tokyo that serve it, but they are currently out of stock, due to a shortage of lamprey imported from Alaska.
In the old book, the lamprey was illustrated with a jaw, and it actively helped the hero to beat the villain.

A Tale of Eel Fate (1810) Text: Santō, Kyōzan (1769-1858); Illustration: Katsukawa, Shuntei (1770-1820)

You can be totally entranced by the glow of something one minute, be willing to sacrifice everything to make it yours, but then a little time passes, or your perspective changes a bit, and all of a sudden you’re shocked at how faded it appears. What was I looking at? you wonder. So that’s the story of my ‘breaking-and-entering’ period.”

As she has done in the past, she may possibly stop coming to Habara in the future and forget why she was doing it. And if it goes that way, Habara has no choice but to accept it, as long as he lives like a lamprey.

As usual, Murakami leaves the rest of the story to the reader and does not make it explicit.