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review 2020-04-30 10:32
Odd but in a certain style
In The Miso Soup - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami

Although described as horror this rather odd little book is more a gentle stroll through the demented mind of one overweight American Frank, and his somewhat shady confidante Kenji. Together they frequent the late-night Tokyo drinking dens, and similar dubious establishments in order to fuel Frank’s increasingly odd behaviour. It is only as the night progresses that Kenji’s suspicion of his unconventional colleague become a reality, that the true intentions of Frank are exposed, and life for Kenji can never be the same again. For those familiar with the style of Haruki Murakami  (Ryu Murakami is no relation) In the Misco Soup will prove to be a delightful read, but others may struggle with the unconventional story telling.

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review 2019-12-21 03:48
In the Miso Soup
In The Miso Soup - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami

Someone years ago (back when I was still in high school) told me I seem like the type of person who would like this author, and recommended this book to me. It looked interesting so I put it on my to-read list, then I took it off because it didn't look as interesting...then last year I added it again because I kept thinking about it! So I was glad to finally be getting around to this.


This was a philosophical journey into the darker side of modern Japanese society. The reader gets a lot of fascinating introductions to different types of people in the Tokyo sex scene. Descriptions of different women who "sell it" and why, plus the people who facilitate the whole business. Toward the end of the story Frank talks about a Peruvian hooker who knew more about Japan than the Japanese women in an omiai club, who were only interested in fashion and expensive things and who sold themselves because they were lonely. There was also a guy named Satoshi in the beginning who was considered mental because he played with blocks on the train. I liked that guy.


I liked the concept of bonno, the worldly desires or bad instincts. And the parts about shifting between different worlds was cool, too. I got lost as a kid plenty of times (and still get lost easily now) so I know exactly what Frank was talking about when he said it was like entering a different reality.


Thought-provoking quotations:

  • "All Americans have something lonely about them. I don't know what the reason for that might be, except maybe that they're all descended from immigrants." (p. 30) . . . "The type of loneliness where you need to keep struggling to accept a situation is fundamentally different from the sort you know you'll get through if you just hang in there." (p. 39)
  • "Parents, teachers, government—they all teach you how to live the dreary, deadening life of a slave, but nobody teaches you how to live normally." (p. 62)
  • "Very few people of our generation or the next will reach adulthood without experiencing the sort of unhappiness you can't really deal with on your own." (p. 72)
  • "Basically people who love horror movies are people with boring lives. They want to be stimulated, and they need to reassure themselves, because when a really scary movie is over, you're reassured to see that you're still alive and the world still exists as it did before. That's the real reason we have horror films—they act as shock absorbers—and if they disappeared altogether it would mean losing one of the few ways we have to ease the anxiety of the imagination." (p. 161)
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text 2019-12-19 06:25
Reading progress update: I've read 110 out of 180 pages.
In The Miso Soup - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami
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review 2019-10-30 08:49
In my top 3 of nastiest books ever written
In The Miso Soup - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami

What's incredible about this book is the gentle build up of tension. It feels like someone playing an instrument off key, until on p.111 hell breaks loose. Audition (another book by the same author) did a similar thing to great effect. Once the violence kicks off it becomes one of the nastiest and most disturbing books I have ever read, up there with Frisk and American Psycho. But it also has some pretty huge themes running through it: humans' unexpected reactions to trauma, the insular nature of Japanese society, and boredom. Sheer existential boredom to which any distraction, however ugly, might seem like a relief.


My favourite lines -


"When the body's constrained, so is the spirit."


"[W]e always have to picture ourselves doing something before we can match the image with an action. And that was what Frank had made impossible - he'd destroyed our ability to visualise a course of action."


"Before Frank had turned up, this pub was like a symbol of Japan, self-contained, unwilling to interact with the world outside, just communing with itself in every breath - mmm, ahhh. People who've spent their lives being in that kind of bubble tend to panic in emergencies, to lose the ability to communicate, and to end up getting killed."


"That's the real reason we have horror films - they act as shock absorbers - and if they disappeared altogether it would mean losing one of the few ways we have to ease the anxiety of the imagination."



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review 2019-08-01 10:36
Birthday girl - Haruki Murakami Birthday girl - Haruki Murakami

This is a short story about a waitress who has to serve dinner to the reclusive owner of the restaurant where she works and was written to celebrate Murakami’s 70th birthday.


At just over 40 pages it can read in the time taken to eat a slice of birthday cake. It’s a strange little tale, abstract as the names of the characters aren’t revealed and with a hint of magic to it.


It has the hint of a modern fairy tale to it, the story ending with a vaugeness that allows the reader to interpret it in their own way.


The difficulty with reviewing such a short story is that there is the potential to simple re-tell the tale and thereby spoil the book for any potential audience.


There is a craft to short story writing, setting the scene, creating character connections and telling the narrative arc in a limited number of words. Here the characters could be imagined, the scene too. As said above, there was some distance to those characters, given they are not named and the limited information about them doesn’t really allow the reader to get a true sense of them. That said it may not be necessary that they do, given this is a short story.


An enjoyable enough tale, one to pass 10 minutes or so with.

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