my review: south of the border, west of the sun

finished reading ‘south of the border, west of the sun’ last night, my second book by haruki murakami. i’ve also read ‘norwegian wood’ which my daughter and i agreed was uncomfortably cringy on account of the graphic, borderline pushy sex the male narrator has with women who are mentally and emotionally fragile, depressed or broken. it reads like abuse.

‘south of the border’ follows the same pattern in that the female characters are poorly drawn. they are tragic victims of hormone-driven male misadventures and blend inelegantly into background noise, or they’re mysterious sex goddesses dedicated to male pleasure in its oddest configurations (they disappear soon after the male narrator has climaxed), or they are the good girlfriends and wives who endure unimaginable pain and humiliation but remain devoted to whatever relationship the male narrator can manage.

according to katarina kio, murakami’s work is ‘incredibly gendered’:
‘The perniciousness of… women as “mediums” becomes evident in Murakami’s novels. Women in his work are often constructed as solely vessels for the self-actualisation of men. One-dimensional female characters orbit around existentially challenged male leads, experiencing relatively little character development of their own.’

murakami is not alone. sex, its depiction and language, and the power dynamics it inscribes are equally unsettling in other universally admired writers such as gabriel garcia marquez, v. s. naipaul, philip roth and michel houellebecq.

they make me feel like i’ve stepped into an outdated, highly misogynistic male fantasy. it’s alienating and unpleasant. makes me realize how grateful i am for writers like elena ferrante whose work i devoured as soon as it became known to the english-speaking world. it was like stepping into another dimension. a place were women were central and in focus, where their thoughts, desires and relationships could begin to be articulated and made real, where they were flesh and blood rather than hollow specters subservient to the quirks of male psychology and anatomy.

to women writers and an alternative literary canon.

#harukimurakami #southoftheborder #elenaferrante #alternativeliterature #womenwriters

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