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Interesting Read: Sleep by Murakami Haruki (Short Story)

It's in Chinese. 

I was in Kinokuniya picking up my mangas the other day and stopped by the Chinese novel section for a quick look since I was looking for a new book to read. This book, Sleep (ねむり) caught my eye instantly basically cos' of the cover and how pretty it looked (I was having trouble sleeping properly when I bought it). I simply bought it for 2 reasons - 1. the illustrations inside are really intriguing, 2. I've always wanted to read a book by Murakami Haruki, I've never read his works before since I wasn't a 'reading person' and everyone always told me how great his works were

This Chinese translated version is a remake I believe, they added in illustrations by Kat Menschik, which I thought was a really smart thing to do cos' the illustrations complimented the text a lot and some of the illustrations were so... captivating. The book was $15.84 in case you wanted to know, but I doubt it matters, it's a really good book. And since it's in Chinese and 75% of my Chinese friends can't read a full text in Chinese, so here's a English translation I found online

There's no proper synopsis written on the book itself actually, so here's a quick summary by me, I don't know if it's good enough or not but beats having none.

Quick 1-para Summary 

The book dictates the life of a 30 year old married woman who stayed awake for 17 days. The story began with describing her daily routine - waking up to make breakfast, sending her husband and children off, going grocery shopping, going for a swim, coming home to prepare lunch, dinner, and then sleep, and repeats cycle. It was until one day that she was woken up and couldn't fall asleep anymore. The book talks about how her life started to "change" after being awake for more than a day, and another day, and then another day. She started to live 2 different lives, her morning self, and her night self. She was the perfect housewife in the day, and she read books, drank whiskey, ate chocolates, went for walks in the night when she was awake in the night. Using the daily routines of the woman, the book explored topics like 'dreams', 'self', 'life' and even 'death'. You can read it online here, but I still think buying the book is best.

Here is my thoughts on the book (along with more details of the storyline), it's going to be really long and might contain some spoilers, so I'm putting it under a Read More cut (wow, I'm finally using Read More function huh).. 

For a short story like this, I thought it was pretty deep that it touched on a variety of topics, and I was quite surprised about that. And the way the book was written was in a really easy to read manner, but somehow you end up seeing something vague behind those simple lines and end up wanting to read it again to grasp the real meaning in the text. Maybe it is the usual way Murakami wrote, but then it's my first book by him so I guess I'll slowly find out about his style huh. It felt like a boring story at first, a very mundane life of a really normal lady, someone that is just like you. And then suddenly things started changing as she became more awake than she ever was even though she didn't slept for days. 

The lady in the book knew her being "awake" wasn't something like "insomnia", she felt strongly that it was something else, something very important and very complicated that even the doctors would have no answer to. She probably felt afraid of her thoughts itself and how her "normal" life was changing and refused to let anyone else notice that she was changing, or rather, she firmly believed that nobody knew she changed. She was still the perfect housewife that she was supposed to be, she had the perfect family, the perfect husband, she's leading a perfect life; just because she is now awake at night and doesn't sleep doesn't mean that she is "flawed", in fact, she felt even more alive than before. My interpretation was that her "normal" morning self was tied by the what the "society" viewed her as - the perfect unflawed person, someone who is responsible, and every single day was like a routine, something she could do with her eyes closed. And tired of that routine and mundane life that she was leading, she found her "real" self in the night while staying awake. She didn't needed the sleep, that time was for "herself" (sudden urge to quote online popular phrase "sleep is for the weak" jkjk) and she enjoyed the time that she had for herself - she used it to the fullest doing whatever she wanted to do. She read books again and again, she drank whiskey, ate chocolates, went for walks, and these seems like ways that she was "breaking free" from the invisible chains that tied her down in the day. 

It's as though the everyday life that was peaceful and routine-based was tiring her out, suffocating her. There was no meaning in life, no surprises tomorrow, and definitely "today" was nothing "special". Everyday was like any other day, she wrote diaries but everyday looked the same, she could replace yesterday with the day after and still nothing would feel amiss. Life was too boring. 

And i feel that this would probably relate to a lot of people. I mean, how many of us have dreamed of becoming someone when we were young? I'm sure we had things like "I want to become a star when I grow up!" "I want to become a baker!" "A lawyer!" "A singer!", etc. And I'm pretty sure that halfway through growing up, we start to realize how "stupid" dreams were - reality is harsh, even if you really loved art as a child, the adults would probably tell you something like "artists don't make a lot of money" but when you think about it, how do you measure the pleasure that you get from achieving your dream? Is life just about money? Is it about becoming what the society norms are? Holding a "proper" job, earning money, working hard, marrying someone, building a family, and then raising your kids, and then wait for your life to slowly wither away... What exactly is "living"? Who do we live for? What do we live for? And why do we live? Are dreams really "stupid" or are the people who think dreams are stupid are the real stupid ones? Who knows, and I just made this paragraph really chim, whoops

The lady in the book was just like any of us, she had doubts. She felt something was missing in her life. She couldn't figured what tomorrow may bring to her. She started searching. And the first step she took was to make time for herself - and that is to become "herself" when it comes to night. I don't think she has "insomnia", she's just choosing to stay awake to keep that time to herself. Her life was perfect to her; in the day she was what the society deemed as "appropriate", and at night she allowed herself to do what she herself felt was "appropriate". She started looking back at the passion for books she had in the past, she started reading again, in a way, it felt like she started "living" again - which was probably why she started to feel like it wasn't a problem that she couldn't fall asleep. In fact, she would rather stay awake than to waste time being asleep. Perhaps the world might think this is "abnormal" but to her, she's alive. It was like she would trade anything in the world to have her own freedom, to have her own life (that feels really sad to be honest, but at the same time it feels too relatable). 

At some point of time while reading, I started becoming a bit confused with the text and sometimes I don't know if she was awake or asleep anymore. It was as though reality was blurring for her, and for me, at some point of time. The ending was a big question mark to me actually, more like there's a lot of ways to interpret it. 1, you can take it that she finally lost it and went crazy, unable to differentiate between illusions and reality anymore. Or 2, you can take it as she finally got sick of the whole life she was living in the day, and had a breakdown now that she started discovering her real self in the night, but she decides to accept that and then go back to her usual routine before the 17 days. Or 3, anti-climately, it can just be that those men were attacking her and that she actually, um..., died? Or 4, what if she had already died from the start when the old man poured water on her legs, and in fact these 17 days were just what she wished she had done when she was still alive, and her car was actually her coffin and the men that were banging hard on her car are actually her husband and son who was trying hard to get her back (wow brain, how even). Or 5, the story continues and she goes back to her usual "normal" routine after breaking down. Or 6, the story continues, she doesn't sleep anymore, but she's now living her life just as she wanted. Or 7, ................

I don't know, I probably need to re-read this again to discover more things about this story. I really liked this story, not because of anything but because of the possibilities it has. There's so many different ways to interpret this text, and based on your own perspective, values and beliefs, you will probably be reading a totally different story from another person. It's so interesting and provokes so much thoughts in so many ways, it's definitely a really really really interesting read and I would really recommend anyone who loves reading to take a look at this story. You can read it online here, but I still think buying the book is best

But anyway, woah okay, I really wrote too much so I shall stop before my brain gets fried. 

Also, I would love to discuss this book with anyone, it would be REALLY interesting to see how someone else interpret a short story like this and how our views might differ from the way we understood the text. If anyone is reading this post and has read the book, please leave a comment! ^ ^

1 comment:

  1. This alternate lifestyle beginning with a shadow and ending with shadows has got to do something with shadows or the darkness she experiences while going through the phase; the consciousness that she experiences as the days goes by, I think she was exploring the subconcious of herself finally loosing in the gigantic universe of subconscious and loosing her mind.. I think the ending would be husband getting a call from the police in the morning and the son and husband would find her in the car insane or dead and the cause of her death and the things that she did will be remained mystery for the husband and son..