A Review of a Book I Have Only Half-Finished

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Haruki Murikami’s Dance Dance Dance has one of the best first pages I have read, but I’m still going to give it away.

The novel opens as follows:

“I often dream about the Dolphin Hotel.

In these dreams, I’m there, enveloped in some kind of ongoing circumstance. All indications are that I belong to this dream continuity.

The Dolphin Hotel is distorted, much too narrow. It seems more like a long, covered bridge. A bridge stretching endlessly through time. And there I am, in the middle of it. Someone else is there too, crying.

The hotel envelops me. I feel its pulse, its heat. In dreams, I am part of the hotel.”

…wow.

And on it goes. Someone once said to me that when you read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you could feel the immense horsepower of his intellect moving toward you. I felt a similar kind of awe as I read that page and thought to myself, ‘I must read this’.

There is a certain cheek in passing comment on a novel by one of the world’s most respected authors having only read half of it. That said, I think the reasons I’m giving it away effectively sum up the shortcomings of the novel.

To put it simply, it’s a kind of existential detective story about a writer in his early thirties who has developed an obsession with the Dolphin Hotel. Something momentous has happened there, involving a prostitute named Kiki. He decides to move away from the meaningless grind of his everyday life as a commercial writer by pursuing whatever it is about the hotel that causes it to exert a force like a magnetic charge upon his life.

The protagonist arrives to discover it has been replaced by a majestic, new Dolphin Hotel, built exactly on the site of the old. After ingratiating himself with the girl on the desk, he learns that strange things are afoot. A mysterious floor exists, unnumbered, which can be reached on the sneak.

She gets him there and he discovers the figure haunting it is in fact, a benign character called ‘The Sheep Man’, which is a guy in a sheep suit. He converses with the protagonist for a while in a kind of oblique, mysterious manner, finally telling him that his only recourse when confronted by the oblique vicissitudes of existence is to ‘dancedancedance’.

The novel contains subtle references to Kafka and Alice in Wonderland which help position you, much like cowboy hats and horses position you for a Western. The first few story twists are invigorating, but the problem begins when you feel as if the novel is developing subsequent levels, pretty much unpopulated by anyone with any genuine metaphysical dimension.

Furthermore, the dialogue is as fake as the smell of an old Tupperware container. Okay, it’s dotted with American pop-culture references, but I don’t feel like it’s developing any kind of understanding of anyone who vaguely resembles a flesh-and-blood human being who can use language with any kind of natural idiosyncrasy.

Worse; on occasion, it even seems wrong (which is worse than fake). There is a scene in which he and an old buddy who has grown up to be a wealthy film star order a couple of high-class prostitutes. The conversation through which he gets to know her, and the sex itself, seems entirely unlike any sex I’ve ever had (some of which has, in fact been with high-class prostitutes, but that’s a story for another time). As a result, you get a beautifully rendered bell that when struck, reverberates like a garbage can.

Dance Dance Dance is about four hundred pages long and while the prose and the story structure are both superb, Murakami ain’t no Kafka. K’s experience is real, and characterized by a creeping unease that everyone who lives in the modern world can feel as surely as a hand on the back of the neck.

At the end of the day, the first experience of Dance Dance Dance is magnificent. The structures rise around you like prisms because of the way they retain and refract the light. But if the metaphor of a hotel can be used, Murakami’s novel is a ghost-town with a few robots in there. I’m going to find something with a few people in it.

 

For those who are interested, the other two best first pages belong to Margaret Atwood’s ‘Cat’s Eye’ and Cormac McCarthy’s ‘all the pretty horses’. Both of them are among the greatest novels I have read.

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