At this point, I feel like Haruki Murakami often rewrites the same narrative.  There’s a man.  The man’s alone.  He’s disconnected, either from society, himself, or both.  A woman is mixed up in the man’s life and she’s probably left him.  There are cats.  Sometimes, just one cat, other times, there are many cats.  The man does not have to answer to the demands of a job or other people.  If he does, then the story takes place while he has time to escape.  Now, which story or novel am I talking about?

Published in the September 5th, 2011 issue of The New Yorker, “Town of Cats” is an empty excerpt from Haruki Murakami‘s latest novel, 1Q84.  I hope the novel works far better than this excerpt, because I found this piece of writing to be heavy handed and unoriginal.  The town of cats is from a short story that the main character, Tengo, is reading while on the train to visit his aging father.  Tengo decides to visit his father, whom he hates, on a whim.  It’s the first visit in two years and his father lives in a retirement home.

The writing takes on new urgency when Murakami is telling the story of the town of cats.  It seems like that is where his interest is.  Once the story moves back into reality, the energy dissipates.  Why not just write something truly fantastic?  Why try to tie the fantastic back into the mundane again and again?  In this case, the town of cats is a simple metaphor for the main character and his father.  I say simple, because Murakami spells it out for the reader.

Tengo reads the story to his father and his father blithely asks questions regarding the town.  Did the cats have TV?  Did they make the city?  Did they live there because people left?  When Tengo has no answers, his father says, “When a vacuum forms, something has to come along to fill it.  That’s what everybody does.”  This seems like a conversation about the well from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  If a writer creates a metaphor and then uses a paint-by-numbers approach to get it across to his or her readers, it doesn’t work.  Moreover, the ending of this excerpt builds a town in the land of sentimentality.  Single teardrops should only be used by the Disney Corporation and even then, they should be used sparingly.

Tengo’s father is right.  There is a vacuum and something needs to come along and fill it.  I’m hopeful that the novel is good, because often, these excerpts don’t work as stand alone pieces.  Skip this excerpt and wait for the novel.  Just because The New Yorker prints a piece doesn’t mean it’s good or you should read it.  There is a vacuum, but don’t worry, there’s an editor and a publicist trying to fill the void.

Categories: New Yorker


Chris Corker · October 23, 2011 at


Good article. I am onto book two now and enjoying it. It doesn’t get my mouth agape like some of his other works bit it’s very accessible and easy to read. At first I couldn’t stand reading Aomame, but she’s growing on me.

I agree that most of Murakami’s works follow a similar pattern, or at the very least have similar themes. I’ve been wrestling with whether this is a negative or not a while now. I think it’s nice that after taking chances on so many books that fail to set up any real believable world and atmosphere, to settle in with an author you know is going to deliver just that.


Lucho · July 16, 2012 at

The way you describe the excerpt makes it sound simplistic, and it’s ok because it really is a simple story in a small chapter, but it’s been used a couple of times within 1Q84 book 2, so it kind of grows along the book…

dillydallygirl · September 5, 2012 at

I agree that 1Q84 grows on you after a few chapters, and I think that so far in Book 2, the Town of Cats story is the most compelling. I even dreamt about it twice after reading the excerpt. It’s powerful, enigmatic, a bit creepy, but blends well with the story of Tengo and his father.

    Tim · September 10, 2012 at

    Thanks for the comment! I’d enjoy hearing what you think by the end of the books.

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