Fifty Books, 365 Days. Book Thirty Nine – Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Date started: October 8th

Date finished: October 17th

I said back when I reviewed Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World that it wouldn’t be my last Murakami, and here we are already, a mere three months later.

Dance Dance Dance is again the story of an unnamed narrator (I’m sensing a theme here) thrust into a mystery by circumstances not entirely within his control. He keeps dreaming of a call girl he once knew called Kiki, and the Dolphin Hotel, a seedy rat trap they once spent some time at. Upon arriving however, he finds that the Dolphin has been taken over and turned corporate, and people are reticent to discuss the old hotel. The narrator finds himself searching for the answer as to why, as well as looking for Kiki’s whereabouts, and how it all ties in with a 13 year old girl with empathic powers and a childhood acquaintance turned successful actor.

There’s a little more structure here than there was in Hard Boiled Wonderland. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s more plot focused, Murakami spends more time on the central mysteries here. I don’t think I will ever sit and read a Murakami novel specifically for its storyline though, since where he really excels again is character and prose.

The previously mentioned 13 year old girl is called Yuki, and she’s hands down the best character in the whole thing. She’s often left on her own by her photographer mother Ame and novelist father Hikaru Makimura (described as nice but with no talent, much to my amusement). As a result, she’s developed an acerbic defence system, and it was her conversations with the narrator where the book really came alive for me. She’s not written as a Mary Sue, or as a precocious teen, she hits sort of a natural middle point. I confess I raised an eyebrow at the idea of a 35 year old man’s friendship with a 13 year old girl, but it worked without crossing the line into creepy.

Murakami’s no slouch with the other characters either. The actor Gotanda is a pleasure to read, even if I felt his friendly exterior was hiding something all the time. As for the narrator himself, he was good enough to carry the story along. Much like with Hard Boiled Wonderland, he’s a man lost in middle age, wondering if his job is actually contributing anything to society at all. I have to imagine it’s a Murakami trope, along with lots of care given to describe the preparation of food and listening to music.

Fortunately, it’s all held together well by Murakami’s endlessly readable prose. It’s the one aspect of the book that made me truly envious of his skills, it has a flow to it like poetry and makes even the most mundane actions seem interesting and worth reading about. Special mention must be made of Alfred Birnbaum. His translation is flawless enough that I forgot for the most part that the book even was translated to begin with. Excellent work, especially given the esoteric style of the whole story.

I loved Dance Dance Dance. It eclipsed Hard Boiled Wonderland in nearly every way. At around 400 pages it was long enough to be satisfying, but short enough to leave me wanting more. I imagine I’ll fit another Murakami in before the year is done.

Further adventures in Murakami Book Reviews:

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

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