Friday, June 20, 2003

Title: Coin Locker Babies
Author: Ryu Murakami
Publisher: Kodansha Europe

Coin Locker Babies is one of only a couple of books available in English from the Japanese author Ryu Murakami. The story of two boys who meet in an orphanage and become firm friends based on the fact that they were both abandoned to die in coin lockers. A fact that stays with them throughout their life. Half of the book is spent following them as they grow up, followed by the years covering their late teens and the climax of their story.

In the orphanage it becomes clear that the two boys have problems. Both of them reacting to those in different ways - one climbs on to random buses and travels as far as possible, the other gather bits and pieces and pretty much builds nests for himself. Eventually it is decided something has to be done and the two are taken to hypnotherapy. This seems to have worked, and eventually the two of them are adopted as brothers by a couple.

From there they grow up on an island until they are 17. One of them runs away to Tokyo, where he dresses as a woman and sells his body, searching for promises of fame. The other goes to Tokyo to find his brother, but in the process has his dark side opened, and driven on by his new girlfriend he wants to destroy Tokyo. Coin Locker Babies is a dark book, dwelling on the problems and the destructive habits of the two boys. Each of them desperately searching for something regardless of the consequences of their actions. As the story progresses it seems that they each head to opposite extremes - one in prison, while the other is at the top of his game.

It is inevitable in many ways that Ryu Murakami will be compared to Haruki Murakami, both being prominent Japanese authors with the name Murakami, both being side by side in the bookshop. But a real comparison is not fair, the two of these authors are very different and they are both setting out to achieve different things. The writing style of Ryu is very straight forward, with a rawness as he explores the emotions of his characters as each of them seems to go slowly mad. Dark and evocative, though certainly not as out there as perhaps some would suggest. After picking up Coin Locker Babies I learned that Ryu was the writer behind the story that became the film Audition - with it being likely that more people reading this will be familiar with the film then it is fair to say that you can see his style coming across there to some degree. Though in terms of the strength of narrative I think Coin Locker Babies is a stronger piece than Audition. Overall Coin Locker Babies is a good read, though perhaps spends too much time on the build up.

June 2003

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