~written by Ryu Murakami
~translated by Ralph McCarthy
Imagine my delight and surprise that, when after more than a year went by without receiving any books through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, the Almighty Algorithm has blessed me two months in a row. I was particularly interested in reading Ryu Murakami's Auditions, translated into English by Ralph McCarthy, and so was excited to be chosen to receive an advance copy from W. W. Norton. Now, I haven't' actually read any of Murakami's work before, although he has been recommended to me several times. Nor have I seen Takashi Miike's controversial cult horror film Audition which was based on Murakami's novel (though I do plan to). Murakami began his writing career with Almost Transparent Blue in 1976. Since then, he has been nominated for, and has won, numerous awards for his work. Only a handful of his books have been translated into English so far, and I get the impression that some people are pretty excited that Audition has finally reached the U.S.
Seven year ago, Aoyama's wife Ryoko died of cancer. Since then he has continued to live out his life as a documentary filmmaker and has deliberately cultivated a meaningful relationship with his son Shige. He has shown little interest in remarrying until his son encourages him to consider it. But being a middle-aged widower, Aoyama's options are somewhat limited when it comes to meeting women he would be interested in for a long-term relationship. Then Yoshikawa, his good friend and fellow filmmaker, comes up with a scheme--they'll hold an audition for a film they have no intention of making, ensuring that Aoyama will have plenty of opportunities to meet young and interesting women. Aoyama reluctantly agrees to the plan, not entirely convinced it will be worthwhile until he sees the resume and photograph of Yamasaki Asami out of thousands of applicants. Many of his friends are uneasy about her, but Aoyama is determined that Yamasaki Asami is the perfect woman for him, despite the unusual circumstances that surround her.
The first thing I noticed when I received Audition was how short it is; the book can easily be read in a few hours. Although it was shorter than I expected, there is nothing wrong with this. I didn't really know what to expect when I started reading Audition other than it was supposedly horror fiction. I say supposedly because most of the book only has a vague, low-key sense of foreboding; it's not until the last chapter or so that the book turns highly disturbing, gruesome, and intense. It is certainly not a story for everyone. Another thing that might be off-putting or offensive to some readers is the largely (but not completely) negative portrayal of women in the book. But, it is appropriate for the story in which many of the characters hold women in disdain to one extent or another, particularly those women working in the entertainment industry.
It wasn't until late in the book that I had a strong inkling about where Murakami was taking the story. The beginning of the book could have easily led into a romantic comedy rather than horror. There are hints along the way, but Audition is mostly told from Aoyama's point of view and he tends to be blinded to most of the situation by his obsession with Yamasaki Asami. The narrator does occasionally let something slip through, almost explicitly directing comments toward the reader which I found to be disconcerting and inconsistent with the rest of the book. Generally, the writing is sparse and direct and while not exactly crude it can be rather blunt. Aoyama himself at times comes across as somewhat of a jerk, but I still liked him and ultimately found him to be a sympathetic character. I particularly enjoyed his easy relationship with his teenage son Shige (who I also liked quite a bit). Overall, I found Audition to be an absorbing albeit uncomfortable read (it really is horror, after all) and I'm interested in trying some of Murakami's other books and films.