As a boy Hajime always felt detached from other children as being an only child felt like an affliction. When Shimamoto, another only child, joined his class they found a connection and spent afternoons together listening to records as her parent’s house.
Now in his 30s, Hajime is married with two children and owns two jazz clubs. His life seems idyllic but he is yearning for more. One day Shimamoto suddenly breezes into his life again…
First impressions: I’m not really a fan of journeys back to childhood but I found the first part of this short novel quite interesting, mainly because of the ‘only child syndrome’ Hajime experienced
Highlights: The novel was easy to read and parts of it have kept me wondering, specifically the abstract enigmas that are Shimamoto and Hajime’s other ex-girlfriend, Izume. Interestingly, I felt little curiosity for his wife Yukiko. By the end of the novel there was so much more you could wonder about Hajime based solely on his adult relationship with Shimamoto.
If I was an editor: I would assume this novel embraces they ‘typical Murakami’ syndrome, although this is only the second one of his that I have read! The story tumbles into the vortex that is Hajime’s mid life crisis and I found the silences frustrating: the adult Shimamoto was so intriguing yet we know so little about her. This is the same for Izume. I also would have liked more information about the post-war Japan Hajime lived in as a boy. However, the point of the novel is to accentuate Hajime’s anguish so in that way it did succeed.
Overall: As Murakami is a Jazz connoisseur, is the novel part biographical, a personal indulgence, an easy to write setting, or a combination of all three?
South of the Border, West of the Sun: 4 stars