The elephant vanishes : stories

by Haruki Murakami

Paper Book, 1994

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Vintage Books, 1994.

Description

Contains seventeen short fiction stories by Haruki Murakami about people whose lives veer off the path of normalcy.

Media reviews

Det är en ojämn samling, pärlor och bagateller om vartannat. När Murakami är som sämst är han tomt idisslande. När han är som bäst tar han sig in i ens huvud.
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Murakamis uppsluppna kombination av noir och fantasy är svårartat beroendeframkallande.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jhybe
best collection of short stories, including "The 100% perfect girl", which is arguably a 100% most charming short story ever.
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I've had a tough time putting my finger on my feelings about Murakami and his writing. Before investing in this collection of short stories, I've read two of the author's more celebrated works, as well as the author's terse answers for The Secret Miracle project. I'm still not convinced of Murakami's brilliance. While reading his stories, I often feel underwhelmed. The story can be incredibly dry, but given some magical element and a cat, it is supposed to be transformed into writing of the highest quality. The characters are often the same: young men, stuck in a tedious work, with a great love for breasts and refrigerators. Seriously, take my word for it non-Murakami readers, there is a lot of time spent in the kitchen. And yet...

And yet I cannot shake these stories. There are novels I gave five shinning stars to, but five years later, I have only the vaguest memories of their plot. It's been six years since I read my first Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, and I still remember so many details. Every week or two, an image from that novel comes back to me. I gave the book an embarrassing three-star rating, yet there are few books I've read since that I think of as much as that one. It's powerful, and yet, I'm still underwhelmed.

I heard some years back that all fiction readers can be divided into three categories: those who read for plot, those who read for character, and those who read for language. Now, a reader can span multiple categories, but most readers are going to fall primarily into one or another. A plot-driven reader can forgive sloppy characterization if the story is well told. Myself, I'm character primarily, language secondarily. A story without a well-built character, no matter how amazing the plot, is going to fall flat for me.

So here I am, analyzing my feelings regarding Murakami, trying to figure out how his writing fits into these categories—and I'm not sure they do. His characters certainly aren't carrying the stories. The language, or I should say the English translation, is nothing beautiful or unique. One could argue the plot is the central focus, as it is the strongest of the three, but I'm now noticing there is a fourth force that may be at play here: imagery. Are there books where imagery is the primary element? Then there must be readers who are image-driven readers, right? With its little people, magical flutes, elephant factories, and perfectly round breasts, breasts, breasts, Murakami's stories make a strong argument for the image-centric novel. It makes sense that Murakami would appeal so much to a visual generation that grew up with video games, comic books, and 32 television channels.

The stories in The Elephant Vanishes are most significant when they tap Murakami's talent of the visual. Murakami is skilled at taking two seemingly random elements and making a story out of them. The more visual these elements are, the more successfully they breathe life into the story. These are unforgettable moments. There are many stories in The Elephant Vanishes that fail to do this, in my opinion. Much like nearly every collection of short stories I've read, there are great stories and there are mediocre stories; despite its gems, The Elephant Vanishes is bogged down by quite a few less-than-memorable tales. As a whole, the collection is rather average.

So I walk away from Murakami again feeling underwhelmed. Despite this feeling, I already know there are images from this collection that I won't be able to shake: factories where elephants are manufactured, a dancing dwarf who comes in dream, a young couple donning the mask of the Hamburglar. In time, I'll return to the author, keeping in mind what I learned this go around: despite working in the medium of words, Murakami is in some regards a visual artist.
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LibraryThing member tundranocaps
All over the scale in terms of moods and themes, the quality often suffers.
LibraryThing member Periodista
Murakami's nether world. Or nether Japan. All these people are so alone, atomized, lurking in the fringe of the salaryman world.
I think I would read these stories and Murakami very differently if I hadn't lived in Japan. On the one hand, he's constantly dropping mentions of US pop culture (music from the 1960's, 1970's) as well as classical music ...which I guess exists ... but it's the absence of the much huger pile of Japan pop culture--all the kitsch, the kiddyporn, the regular porn, candy-grade corporate produced Japanese pop music, the dumb women culture, and oh, the intense congestion--that makes this seem more like science fiction. There is even one story when a terrible clawed beast comes out of the earth the the female protagonist reflexively slays it.
You'd never get a feel for what Tokyo or Japan looks like from these stories. Or what Japanese women look like or wear (and there are a lot of women in his stories, sometimes as narrators). His characters don't talk like the average college graduate women either. You'd never guess the extent of building and living and traffic congestion. How hard it is to do some of the things his characters do so effortlessly (like drive somewhere on the outskirts of Tokyo from the central part).
I want to know who the Murakami fans are. Is this something they make public if they are salarymen or office ladies? Or maybe they're the people condemned, whether they like it or not, to always be part of the freeter workforce?
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
It’s a collection of 17 short stories mostly describing the ordinary lives of people of twenty five to thirty something, into which in some cases permeate bits and pieces of what seems to be other dimensions of reality. Those interferences are all invasive and they radically change the characters’ lives.
Not bad, no Murakami is ever bad, but I don’t think short stories are his real forte. Most of the stories seem to be more of the stepping stones into his novels anyway.
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LibraryThing member cinesnail88
This was my first venture into the work of Haruki Murakami, and I found myself greeted with a lot of expected things - but also plenty of surprises. This set of stories was very unique, though they all shared a small connecting thread. Extremely interesting writer, I will be reading his other works shortly.
LibraryThing member TakeItOrLeaveIt
reading Murakami short stories is a nice change up from his typical long drawn out adventures and he is able to really explore stories more than characters. however, this didn't leave the same lasting impression that many of his other books did.
LibraryThing member gward101
More hit than miss, but not many bullseyes either. Haruki Murakami's collection of short stories is a must for fans of the Japanese author (myself included), but probably not a good starting point for anyone wanting to learn why he seems to have attracted a legion of dedicated followers. The usual ingredients of Murakami's novels are all here, but in too brief a form to be anywhere near as captivating.… (more)
LibraryThing member screamingbanshee
Murakami showcases the prenultimate short story. I actually enjoyed these more than his full length novels.Interestingly, the same names appear ... so one is given a glimpse of his novel's characters outside of their novels.
The first story is excerpted from Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. And if you haven't read this yet, well, I guess you will want to after having read this anthology!… (more)
LibraryThing member jump4sushi
Reading Murakami is just plain fun. The characters in Murakami`s stories live ordinary lives which somehow become twisted and extraordinary. In the short story anthology The Elephant Vanishes, a man`s favorite elephant disappears into thin air and the balance of his whole life is upset. In Sleep, a woman is startled by a strange man in her sleep and suffers a subsequent case of wakefulness with moments of animated consciousness and unimaginable horror. Seemingly mundane conversations between characters can bring bittersweet nostalgia to the reader.… (more)
LibraryThing member grizzly.anderson
The short story seems to be a lost or dying art, perhaps because there are not so many outlets for them any more. Or perhaps because I just don't know where to look. In any case I was happy to find a collection of Murakami's short stories. I like his novels, but sometimes I end up feeling wrung out and lost by the time I'm done with them. Some of the short stories are just as confusing, but they are quickly done. And he is such a good writer that the ones that click can be re-read many times. (The Fall of the Roman Empire... and Barn Burning respectively)

Many of the stories fall into the contemporary/urban fantasy category his novels typically inhabit (TV People, The Little Green Monster), but some of them are timeless/placeless character studies full of the rich interior monologue that Murakami does so well (The Last Lawn of the Afternoon).

There are also pieces that are taken from, or are stepping stones to his novels, such as the opening story The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women, which is pretty much the opening chapters of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Others, like The Dancing Dwarf feel like they were taken from fairy tales (maybe The Red Shoes and Cinderella, or something specifically Japanese) and given a Murakami twist (a factory that *makes elephants*?)

Sometimes a name will come up repeatedly, like Noboru Watanabe, but applied to such different characters that they can't actually be the same person & Murakami is just playing with the name and who it might be. That or connections are far deeper and more subtle than I can fathom.

All in all, a nice collection with more good than bad. And the beauty of short bad stories is that the end and a new beginning is not far off.
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LibraryThing member llasram
I'm glad I read this collection, but I only really loved a few of the stories in it. The collection overall just felt uneven to me, a sense furthered by the way it combines the work of two different translators. Of the two (Rubin and Birnbaum), I definitely preferred Rubin's translations -- or maybe just preferred the stories he chose to translate. The stories I did love though -- "Sleep" and the title story in particular -- have something really powerful about them, a quiet unhinging of the world that Murakami makes seem both plausible and fundamentally disquieting.… (more)
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Audiobook, Short Stories................Murakami is one of my favorite authors. He has a marvelous ability to address subtle and grossly obvious aspects of being human. He writes so ably about the human psyche, sometimes to the level of creating discomfort in the reader. In this collection of short stories the reader meets a dancing dwarf, workers in an elephant factory, school children, married couples, lonely singles, dreamers, and a host of interesting characters. Murkami is masterful in his use of language and his ability to demonstrate the absurdities, the pains, and the joys of living.… (more)
LibraryThing member Tinwara
Not being that much of a short story reader, but being a hardcore Murakami fan, I wondered what would carry more weight: the short stories or Murakami.

Turns out that even if Murakami writes them, short stories are not my thing. They seem to be the start of a great story but then suddenly end. Just like that! The first story in this collection is living proof: as a story it doesn't go anywhere, but later on Murakami used it as the start of The wind-up bird chronicles, which is - in my opinion - a great novel.

Having said this, I did like some of the stories in this collection. Most of all "The silence" and "The dancing dwarf".
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LibraryThing member figre
Haruki Murakami’s strength is the novel. It allows him the chance to truly dig into his strange subjects. Yet, saying his novels are better than his short stories is somewhat like saying that 10 million dollars is better than 9 million dollars. The difference isn’t worth worrying about.

In this collection of short stories, Murakami continues to use strange and slightly disturbing situations to explore what makes his antagonists tick. In doing so, we are lucky to join on the journey. There are few misses in this collection. And the hits are grand and memorable.

I have said it before and I will say it again. I approach every new Murakami book with the fear that I will be disappointed. I am never disappointed, I am always enthralled, and I am always thrilled to have discovered Murakami in the first place. Each new reading is like having that first discovery all over again.
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LibraryThing member cameling
Murakami is a master of dark comedy and surreal stories. These are 15 short stories of dark humor. I think my favorite of them is 'The Kangaroo Communique' - where a store's product manager takes it upon himself to write a letter and then scrapes that idea to record a tape of his thoughts to a customer who had written a letter of complaint to the store because they didn't allow her to exchange an LP she had bought a week before. I loved this story because the product manager, with his rambling thoughts that just seemed to jump from one thing to another so reminded me of myself.

All the stories are rather playful or thought provoking.
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LibraryThing member poonamsharma
Most memorable one is Barn Burning, the one about sleep was also part of Murakami's other short story collection. Actually I could not finish the book, some 5-6 stories were remaining but I had to return the book.
LibraryThing member RajivC
This is possibly the only book of Murakami's that I did not get into with my heart. It simply had no appeal to me. Personally, I think that his forte is the novel, and not short stories. As I would get into a story, it would end, and I found this rather disconcerting.

I read the book twice, with a 3 year gap in between, and my reaction the second time around was the same as the first.

This is one book that is not for me
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LibraryThing member kirstiecat
I'm kind of on a Murakami kick...the first three I read- Hardboiled Wonderland, Norwegian Wood, and Kafka on the Shore were all experienced about a year apart. Then, two years after that, I read Wind Up Bird Chronicle when I was sick in bed with Pertussis/Whooping Cough. Oddly enough, I haven't read any of his novels since then and that was 3 years ago. Now, I've read about three in a row in the past two weeks but haven't had as much time as I'd like to catch up.

I think when you read Murakami back to back, you get this odd sense of how similar many of his characters are in terms of their brandy drinking, Russian novel reading, spaghetti eating sense but how different they can be as well. This one is filled with disappearing women and elephants (as well as an elephant factory), a newly married couple who attacks bakeries (and a McDonalds as a fall back plan), the 100% perfect girl and matches that weren't ever made, lawns that are mowed, dancing dwarves that get into your dreams and your soul, the was a feeling of fear that everyone will think him dishonest can infect the heart of a boxer, and a marriage that just can't continue after the husband requests lederhosen. You meet a whole cast of very interesting characters at all different points of their lives.

I can't say for sure if any of these stories changed my life or my viewpoints on life but they are memorable and I can see them creeping up on my memory from time to time. Still, he doesn't write the kind of stories that I love absolutely best: Flannery O'Connor #1, #2 John Cheever Ray #3 Bradbury #4 Roald Dahl #5 O'Henry.

Still, these are not too shabby to say the least.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
The stories collected here may not be individually compelling, at least not initially. Together they generate certain harmonics, overtones that reappear reflected or distorted as they move from one story to the next. Lassitude is, perhaps, the overarching emotional dynamic (if lassitude can be a dynamic). And most often the main character is struggling to reach escape velocity from the doldrums of the middle years (25 to 35) in which, it seems, these individuals are not yet fully formed (like an echo of adolescence).

The title story stands out, with its casual magic realist plot device, but equally telling is “TV People” and “The Dancing Dwarf”, which for some reason had me thinking of Peter Carey’s Tristan Smith. On the other hand, “The Second Bakery Attack”, “Lederhosen”, and “Barn Burning” cross the cusp of a life-change without appeal to non-realist technique, and they do this just as effectively.

Characteristic Murakami internationalist brand references abound and only one or two of the stories is tightly fixed to a Japanese locale. Sometimes it feels as though this is writing for the export market. Or maybe that veneer appeals locally. In any case, it does not detract from a set of stories that may continuing sounding long after the book is set aside.
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LibraryThing member PiyushC
Murakami loves to write short stories and I somehow hate to read his short stories (compared to his novels). This collection of short stories was another such bitter-sweet combination which left me wondering if it short stories I don't like much, or is it Murakami's short stories that I have problem with. After much deliberation and looking back at my records and logs, I realised that while my reading doesn't consist of many short stories, there are many collections and individual short stories that I have loved.

Among the ones that Murakami has written too, there are almost a third of them which I absolutely adore, and with many of the rest, I simply get lost!

This phenomenon may be partially explained from the fact that Murakami's writings borders on the line of everything that is absurd, weird, and generally outworldly. That being the case, the gestation period for his stories ought to be longer, a short story, on account of its length, is simply not enough, for the development and consequent understanding of the same by the reader. The end result is, that while those stories would be very clear in Murakami's mind, the short stories fail to communicate across the point.

3/5
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LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
It has been noted elsewhere that anthologies are difficult to rate: one sufficiently good, or bad, story may skew the readers perspective on all the rest. Luckily, this is not the case for The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of 17 short stories by Haruki Murakami; most very good and few rise above that to great.

One standout is The Wind Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women, a longish short story that was later expanded into the novel The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. As a short story, it has a sinister overshadowing that I do not recall from the novel. I think because that through the expansion into a novel some of the internal tension was relieved. You can certainly understand why the author expanded this work: even if you did not know there was a related longer work, you feel there is more to the story being told and you want it all. The author made very good use of the story to get you hooked.

For me, Sleep was another standout story. It is the story of a woman who is not so much of an insomniac as she is a person who decides there are better things to do than sleep. She begins, innocently enough, by reading a book and realizing she is more interested in reading than in sleeping. From there, she makes a conscious choice to give up sleep. Biological reality catches up with her as the human body cannot be deprived of sleep without suffering for it. What happens when sleep deprivation catches up with her is the final twist to the story.

Murakami has a uniquely surrealistic style and two stories exploring this genre are Little Green Monster and TV People. Little Green Monster is almost humorous in a perverse vein and is very enjoyable because of the styling. TV People could be a Twilight episode of that series was still in production. I could almost envision this story as being turned into a screenplay, no pun intended, as a short feature.

The Dancing Dwarf is another patently surrealistic offering that I could see expanded into longer work. Who else but Haruki Murakami could get away with telling us that elephants are made in a factory from reconstituted elephant parts because there is more demand for elephants than there is a natural supply? This is also something of a ghost story because the dwarf is no longer living, but does take possession of a living body. What follows is a contest of who gets to keep possession of the body and live happily ever after.

Overall, I’d rate the collection as a solid four stars. Some of the individual stories are a great as anything I’ve read from Murakami, other are not up to that standard and pull the collection down. If you really like twisted tales, this collection is sure to please.

Note: not part of my rating, but I had some major problems with the pronunciation of some words in the audio book I listened to. I’m not talking about how some of the Japanese words were pronounced differently from what I would have expected. I am not a speaker of the Japanese language and I presume someone made sure they were correct. I mean some of the English words. The narrators are all, I believe, native English language speakers. Why then, for example, does “soldering iron” come out sounding like a military weapon with a clearly pronounced “L”? There are other examples, but I don’t want to dwell on the annoyances. The stories are great, and that’s what you should be paying attention to.
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LibraryThing member shadowofthewind
Good selection of stories where something always seems to be missing, a cat, an elephant, or sanity. At some point most of the characters in this book of short stories seems to have gone off track. Something is missing, a paralegal suddenly doesn't want to pursue law, a couple so hungry they hold up a McDonalds, a woman who can no longer sleep, and an elephant that vanishes.

The stories seem to represent a sort of "quarter-life" crisis for the characters. A lack of direction or something that has happened, a realization of a situation, that throws everything off track and has everyone scrambling to find their way again. I found some of the shorter stories I didn't enjoy as much, but the longer stories had more character development and had wonderful insights into the wandering mind. They've lost the way, but don't know when it happened, or why, and there seems to be no way to fix it.

Wind Up Bird story
From the nearby strand of tree comes the scree ee eech of a bird sharp as a tightening spring. The wind-up bird we call it. My wife's name for it I have no idea what it's really called and not even what it looks like. Nonetheless this wind-up bird is there every morning in the trees of the neighborhood to wind things up, US our quiet little world, Everything.

Sleep story
Without noticing it, I've been accustomed to live this way in a life without books. How strange now that I think of it. Reading had been the center of my life when I was young. I had read every book in the grade school library, and almost my entire allowance would go towards books. When had I really read a book last? And what had it been? I couldn't recall anything. Why did a person's life have to change so completely? Where had the old me gone, the one who would read a book as if possessed by it. What had those days and that abnormally intense passion meant to me?

Now my inability to sleep ceased to frighten me. What was there to be afraid of? Think of the advantages. Now the hours from 10 at night to 6 in the morning belonged to me alone. Until now, a third of every day has been used up by sleep, but no more, NO MORE. Now it was mine just mine, nobody else's, ALL MINE. I could use this time in any way I liked. No one will get in my way, no one will make demands of me. Yes that was it, I had expanded my life. I had increased it by a 1/3.
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LibraryThing member Brendan.H
Murakami's talents are well suited to the short story format. For the most part his work captures a profound but also gentle dislocation that I find quite comforting. There is, however, real terror lurking behind much of the quirkiness.
LibraryThing member plabebob
I'm not a massive fan of short stories but there are some real gems in here. Surreal, thought provoking & engaging.

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