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Almost Transparent BlueAlmost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a story about a bunch of disaffected Japanese youths who waste their time with gratuitous sex, drugs and violence. ‘Almost Transparent Blue’ is the other Murakami’s debut novel which was received to critical acclaim and won the coveted Akutagawa prize. It is also one of the must read books on the 1001 list. This is not an easy book to read and I’m sorry to say that it’s not as good as ‘In the Miso Soup’, although it has its moments. Favourite bits include the opening chapter and the bit where they are at the American air base during the thunder and lightning sequence.

The strongest aspect of the book is its gross imagery and the unfathomable sadness of lost youth. The characters (of which the narrator shares the same name as the author) are all stuck in their own desolate vacuum of apathy, moving from one moment to the next in a haze of indifference. Murakami’s image of post-war Japan drags the reader down the dark alleyways of an insular and unyielding culture. His characters allow us to penetrate the stereotypical lacquerwork of strong Japanese moral values and gaze at the ‘other japan’, the one that lives side-by-side with Western ideals. This drug-like cocktail is at once fascinating and repulsive.

Maybe it’s just me, but there were times when this novel didn’t make any sense, but then again this is a ‘mood heavy’ book, and there is not a pronounced plotline, so the narrative sort of echoes the tumultuous lives of decadent Japanese youths. This book reminds me of ‘Exit A‘ by Anthony Swofford which had a better storyline and is also set around an American airbase in Japan. Both novels contain a central theme of degeneration and crime, but ‘Almost Transparent Blue’ is decidedly more corrosive and far more bold than Swofford’s offering.

This is an R-rated book so beware. There are many alarming scenes but nevertheless it is a daring exploration into wordsmithery by Murakami. Considering it was his first novel, (and written when he was still only a student!) it deserves some applause for its pluck. Can’t wait to read ‘Coin Locker Babies‘!

For more on Ryu Murakami, see my review of ‘In the Miso Soup’.

Rating: 2/5 stars.

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