Almost Transparent Blue – Ryu Murakami

August 30, 2009 § 16 Comments

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Taken from the blurb inside the cover:

Almost Transparent Blue is a brutal tale of lost youth in a Japanese port town close to an American military base. Murakami’s image-intensive narrative plants a portrait of a group of friends locked in a destructive cycle of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. The novel is all but plotless, yet the raw and often violent prose takes us on a rollercoaster ride through reality and hallucination, highs and lows, in which the characters and their experiences come vividly to life. Trapped in passivity, they gain neither passion nor pleasure from their adventures. Yet out of the alienation, boredom and underlying rage and grief emerges a strangely quiet and almost equally shocking beauty.

This is a book which has me at a loss of what to say about it. I had picked this book to read for the Lost In Translation Challenge because the title had sounded oh-so-tasty to me. And because I don’t usually read the blurbs before I start reading the story, I started my journey not knowing what was ahead of me.

I was shocked, to say the least.

The storytelling was indeed ‘violent’, in so many different ways and levels. On one end of the spectrum, the things that were happening within the story were violent. Sex and drugs, even when they are by themselves, are rarely subtle. But when huge quantities of both are mixed together within a single bowl, the result is an overdosage of violence.

But as if that wasn’t enough, even the prose was violent, as is mentioned in the blurb. Just reading the book itself, I felt like I was being pushed and shoved in all directions. Sometimes I felt suffocated, and there were moments when I felt like my whole body was slammed against a wall.

This book is most certainly a very sharp contrast to what I’m used to reading. It is a very disturbing book indeed.

I’m not sure if I can say I enjoyed the book very much. In fact, I had to put it down after reading only up to about page 60 (which was already halfway through the book) because I felt like I couldn’t relate to the characters. A lot of the time, I felt lost within the story, I didn’t know who was talking, or who was doing what. Everything was so haphazard, I didn’t know what was really happening, and what was just hallucination.

I picked it up again after letting it rest for about a day. Maybe that little shift in my perspective was a much needed one, or maybe I just came a little more well-prepared, because I found that I started to understand a little better what might have been Murakami’s intention by writing the book in such a way.

There are still so many aspects of this book that I do not understand. But rare is a book that repels and intrigues me at the same time.

Conclusion: 2.5/5. I may put this book down as something I might want to pick up again after I’ve given it a few years. They say sometimes, a book’s readability depends hugely on the reader’s frame of mind.

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§ 16 Responses to Almost Transparent Blue – Ryu Murakami

  • Tony says:

    I’ve never read anything by Ryu, but I’ve heard many opinions like yours. Just like with Natsuo Kirino, I’m not sure I really want to go there when I have so many other things I want to read…

  • Bellezza says:

    I find many of Ryu Murakami’s books to be disturbing. The cover alone looks alarming, before even reading your review. Sometimes, you have to be in a certain frame of mind for certain books or authors.

  • su says:

    I’ve actually never heard of Ryu Murakami before this. Might explain why I even dared to pick it up in the first place. 🙂

    @ Tony: Natsuo Kirino too?

    @ Bellezza: I agree. The cover is rather shocking. And I was definitely not in the right frame of mind for this book.

  • Mel U says:

    This is the first I have heard of this writer. I will read it if I am able to obtain a copy. I want for the Japanese Challenge to be exposed to a wide spectrum of works.

  • mee says:

    I just finished a book by Hitomi Kanehara that has some violent and sex content too, but I think it might be relatively mild compared to Ryu Murakami’s (though it is written that he praised her book highly). I don’t dare reading Ryu Murakami’s until now. Anyway, I’ll post my review pretty soon, maybe sometime this week.

  • JoAnn says:

    This is an author I’m not familiar with, but it sounds like this book would be way outside my comfort zone. I would definitely need to be in just the right frame of mind to appreciate it.

  • su says:

    @ Mel: Well, it definitely is something different from some of the other Jap Lit books that I’ve been exposed to so far. And this book got the Akutagawa Prize as well, so might be worth your time, if you like your books violent and shocking. 🙂

    @ mee: I’ll be looking forward to your review then. Don’t take too long now! 😉

    @ JoAnn: I have a suspicion that this book lies outside of the comfort zone for a lot of people. It was surely out of mine. But sometimes I like challenging myself to step outside of that boundary. Who knows what I might find?

  • Mark David says:

    Creepy… but yes, it does depend on the reader’s frame of mind.

  • chasingbawa says:

    I also found this novel deeply shocking, partly because I didn’t expect it to be so violent. Ryu Murakami is huge in Japan but a lot of my Japanese friends have said that people’s opinions of him are deeply divided. You either love him or hate him. And I agree with Mee, Hitomi Kanehara’s Snakes and Earrings also kicks quite a punch. Maybe because it contrasts so deeply with most of the Japanese fiction that has been available in translation up to now.

    • su says:

      @ chasingbawa: I think you’re right. It is a huge deviation from what is typically available as translated Japanese work these days. I for one am so used to Japanese literature being subtle and quiet that this piece of work caught me completely off guard.

      But I’d be interested in reading Kanehara’s Snakes and Earrings, just to see how different the two books are. And maybe this time, I won’t be in such a shock.

  • Mark David says:

    I’ve watched the movie adaptation of Snakes and Earrings. I wouldn’t want to spoil your viewing but I would like to warn you that it’s got some pretty disturbing scenes because of what you might call a masochistic theme. I mean, I’m a guy but I almost couldn’t take it. I guess what really bothered me was the fact that the lead character was this beautiful, innocent-looking actress who looked like she should never be seen in a hardboiled film. To be honest with you, the only reason I watched it was because she starred in it. In any case, the film showcased really good acting, and I have to admit that Kanehara’s brilliance lies in her bold, but somewhat insightful, depiction of perversion.

    By the way, the actress’ name is Yuriko Yoshitaka. I just noticed that it seems like the Yuriko’s of literature are always beautiful (e.g., the Yuriko in Natsuo Kirino’s Grotesque)

  • su says:

    @ Mark David: There’s a movie adaptation too? That’s rather surprising. I’m more keen on reading the book than watching the movie though.

    But you definitely know your stars. Yuriko Yoshitaka is one beautiful girl. 🙂

  • Mark David says:

    Yeah I was surprised too when I learned there was a movie adaptation. Having seen the movie already, I guess I can make myself read the book one of these days, so I can get a better grasp about Kanehara’s writing. She couldn’t have won that prestigious award for nothing, right? I had her book Autofiction (not sure if this is an actual semi-autobiographical work) last year, but I failed to even get halfway because at some point I thought it’s not my cup of tea. I thought the storytelling was pretty hip in a good way though.

  • Naaathaaan says:

    I was recommended this by a good friend of mine. I really enjoyed the loose plot and graphic nature involved with the story. I found it hard to read certain parts, however in retrospect the fact that I found difficulty in physically making it through particular sections kind of proves this books worth in my mind. It stands alone with a raw character that I would easily compare to that of Kosinski’s Painted Bird.

  • Novroz says:

    I thought I was the only one feeling confuse!! the way you said it is exactly like how I felt when reading it….the difference is I didn’t finish the book….and I step away from any books by Ryu.

  • […] now. Though I can’t really remember the story or plot of the first of his books I read, Almost Transparent Blue, which incidentally was also his first novel, I vividly remember how disturbed I felt. I even […]

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