12 Apr 2020

‘A Feminist Critique of Murakami’

I was happy to see a piece like this appear on Lit Hub; I had high hopes that it would address the one genuine problem I have with the work of Haruki Murakami — an author whom I admire a great deal.

At first the interviewer (singer and author Mieko Kawakami) is admirably straightforward in tackling the issue head on:

MK: I’m talking about the large number of female characters who exist solely to fulfill a sexual function. On the one hand, your work is boundlessly imaginative when it comes to plots, to wells, and to men, but the same can’t be said for their relationships with women. It’s not possible for these women to exist on their own. And while female protagonists, or even supporting characters, may enjoy a moderate degree of self-expression, thanks to their relative independence, there’s a persistent tendency for women to be sacrificed for the sake of the male leads. So the question is, why is it that women are so often called upon to play this role in Murakami novels?

But, unfortunately, when Murakami’s answers are less than impressive, she doesn’t push him on the issues, instead willing to accept as answers evasions and weak excuses like this:

HM: I’m not a thinker, or a critic, or a social activist. I’m just a novelist. If someone tells me that my work is flawed when viewed through a particular ism, or could have used a bit more thought, all that I can do is offer a sincere apology and say, “I’m sorry.” I’ll be the first guy to apologize.

The interview also doesn’t tackle the way in which Murakami’s more recent fiction frequently sexualises young girls, and finds magical realist pseudo-excuses to permit adult men to ‘blamelessly’ engage in sexual acts with them.