Short Story Spotlight: Sheherazade by Haruki Murakami

Featured in today’s The New Yorker, Scheherazade is a scintillating example of the peculiar and fanciful imagination of its author, Japan’s preeminent peddler of fictive absurdities, and possible contender for this year’s Nobel Prize being announced tomorrow, Haruki Murakami.

The other thing that puzzled him was the fact that their lovemaking and her storytelling were so closely linked, making it hard to tell where one ended and the other began. He had never experienced anything like this before: although he didn’t love her, and the sex was so-so, he was tightly bound to her physically. It was all rather confusing.


As ever Murakami’s141013_r25575-877 unadorned prose surprises in all the best ways. The characters, in this case a Mr. Habara, 31 and housebound, though we are never quite sure why, and his caretaker/contracted lover, a 35-year-old housewife whom he dubs Scheherazade for her penchant, much like that fabled queen from ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, for spinning fantastical yarns post coitus. The casual manner in which these characters pivot the story in unexpected directions is the real beauty of reading Murakami. In the hands of a master like this, the reader never quite knows what might be coming, but always senses, as one who has been repeatedly struck by lightning, that the air is charged for another bolt.

In Scheherazade we see at work, or rather we don’t see but are meant to subtly feel, all the devices of the best stories: Repetition of both words and theme, each instance serving to recall to the reader the earlier occurrences and give depth and continuity to the story (pay attention to the theme of storytelling itself, the lamprey, Habara’s cryptic diary entries, even the word languid, occurring twice and used in a similar context each time); effortless but well-anchored movements through time and perspective; aphorisms (reality, he knew, could at times be terribly unreal.); foreshadowing, as through Habara’s lonely musings about Scheherazade’s tales and what they mean to him; rhetorical questions (What possible difference could it make to him, after all, if they were lies or truth, or a complicated patchwork of the two?) that, by asking a reader’s participation, serves to draw them in further.

Murakami knows all the tricks, including the most crucial of all: how to make them invisible. Which is probably the best way to read this story–just forget about the magician and enjoy.


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