Murakami is another author that I have been in awe of and yet a bit wary. He is a firm favourite among many of my fellow readers, highly lauded by many a critic/reviewer. This was the last available to review on this list of the four books he has on here. And yet I was intimidated by the highly surreal nature often referred to where his books are concerned, where readers were unsure of what was happening but were enjoying themselves, happy to be taken for the ride. This was further emphasised when I read After Dark, another short story collection of his that is not on this list. So nabbing this last opportunity to review a Murakami for this list (so far at least) I put myself in the mindset of being open and willing to go wherever Murakami wanted to take me. Which for all my mental preparedness ended up being very middle of the road.
After the Quake features six short stories all set in the aftermath of the destructive 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. Rather than being directly set in and around Kobe, or having the characters be directly affected by the earthquake itself, these stories are more ripples than aftershocks, the earthquake being a passing mention, a distant motivation. So while this collection is called After the Quake, this is far less a unifying theme as there is another more obvious ; that of human relationships. Be it the losing of some and gaining of new, re-connecting with yourself, searching for a connection that is missing, or re-connecting in a more meaningful manner this thread of connectivity runs throughout five of the six stories here. For me, this was unexpected and whether or not it was because I had mentally prepped myself for something different, a little disappointing in their straightforwardness and accessibility. That is not to say that these stories are not poignant or meaningful, as this common thread does make for interesting thought when looked at as a collective. The reactions of these different characters and the different aspects of human inter-connectivity are displayed in scenarios that never feel forced and could be everyday occurrences anywhere. In the first story, our main character’s wife leaves him and he is given the opportunity of a new connection when he is sent on a mysterious work trip. In another, a business woman has a spiritual encounter that encourages her to let go of the painful past in order to move forward and connect more truthfully and happily in the future.
It is just that this does not feel like a new handling of a common theme; nothing here is fresh and off-kilter like one would come to expect from Murakami. It is not until I got to the fifth of the sixth stories, ‘Super-Frog Saves Tokyo’ that the absurd surrealism that I have come to associate with Murakami comes into play and for me, this story becomes the saving grace of the collection. This thread of relationships can be drawn through this story as well, even though it is, as the title depicts, about a super-sized, super-skilled frog battling a giant worm to prevent an earthquake in Tokyo. A loan collector, who thinks little of himself, is chosen as Super-Frog’s companion due to his selflessness and giving nature towards not only his family, but his friends and colleagues too. Perhaps it is that he, who is humble and giving in his relationships with others is worthy of such a task, that of defending the city of Tokyo. This odd little tale was a bright spot that stood out because of how different it was and was enjoyable because of the difference.
This book would be an odd choice as an introduction to Murakami so I would not recommend it for this. It is however a nice study of human interaction and a must read for Super-Frog alone. Maybe Murakami’s plan was to make the expected unexpected and therefore not so far out of his scope after all. Maybe this is just a lesson for me to leave any and all expectations at the door, especially when it comes to this author.