“Dancing is everything, Dance in tip-top form. Dance so it all keeps spinning. If you do that, we might be able to do something for you. You gotta dance. As long as the music plays…Dance, it’s the only way. Wish we could explain things better. But we told you all we could. Dance. Don’t think. Dance. Dance your best, like your life depended on it. You gotta dance.”
I fell in love with Murakami via Dance Dance Dance. I remember curling up one evening too many years ago and finishing this book at one sitting. Since then I’ve put Dance Dance Dance as my favorite Murakami book. But we change and that truth made me anxious. A part of me wanted to keep sacred the memory of my first swoon, but I also knew I needed to read it again. I was curious of whether or not I’d still love it despite mediocre reviews.
I’ll tell you later. Let me write about the book first.
Like Wishing Something to Levitate
Dance begins with a sudden recollection of an Old hotel in Sapporo–the Dolphin Hotel. The recollection is a small thought, nostalgia, a seemingly good time Murakami’s narrator clings to. It then grows and becomes the axis by which the story spins. The narrator plans a big vacation, a desire that grew out of his belief that someone called out to him. It is an unexplained urge from within that wills him to stop work and take a long holiday to visit a mediocre hotel.
Often one finds in a Murakami novel an average (and sometimes mediocre) man in his mid 30s sifting through memories or mundane events. Moreover, this character is driven to great heights (or paranormal events) by a simple ‘obsession’ or ‘impulse.’ It is this fixation towards one thing, may it be a memory, an activity, or a person, that takes a great part of his life. Very much like wishing for something to levitate.
Nothing, I do mean, Nothing Is As They Seem
I find Freud as a lovely companion to reading Murakami. Murakami often explores the subconscious—the unknown elements—in daily human life in his novels. Our hero (or should I say anti-hero) finds himself in a newly renovated/upgraded Dolphin Hotel. Now, it’s a classy formal hotel where smiles are plastic. But somewhere ‘beneath’ the new hotel is the old hotel, paranormally hidden and waiting for our hero. In that space of the old hotel, what seemed to be a structure that exists in some unseen plane, I can’t help but think that it is nothing more than our hero’s subconscious made concrete.
Murakami stretches the beyond-the-surface metaphor applying it to people and objects. Like the novel’s hero, the reader is also asked to suspend judgment and get to know the other characters. We discover that Yuki the seemingly aloof teenager is gifted and Gotonda, the perfect man hides a secret. The idea of looks-can-be-deceiving is concretized in the comparison between our Hero’s car and that of Gotonda. While the former owned an old Subaru it felt warm and welcoming inside, while Gotonda’s Maserati gave off a vile and vicious aura.
Dance Dance Dance is like scratching the surface to reveal the truth hidden beneath.
Normality isn’t common around here
If the character is normal then s/he must be the hero’s security blanket. Most of the characters in this novel are enveloped in mystery and secrecy—a thread that connects the main character to everyone else. A girl simply disappeared from the face of the earth. A teenager girl lives on her own and hones a gift. There’s the actor whose existence is like that of a doll. And there’s the sheep man–the man who lives in the mysterious dark halls of the old dolphin hotel.
The Sheep Man however is the only character whose appearance is not human. He is a recurring character in Murakami’s Ratman Trilogy (Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, and The Wild Sheep Chase) and the only connection between the Trilogy and Dance Dance Dance.
The Sheep Man is the character that starts the connection between our hero and Yumiyoshi, the receptionist in the new hotel and the most stable of Murakami’s character in Dance. If the Dolphin Hotel is the axis, the Sheepman is the force that gets the story spinning.
Who is the sheepman? His purpose he says:
“We connect things. That’s what we do. Like a switchboard, we connect things. Here’s the know. That’s our duty. Switchboard duty. You seek it, we connect, you got it.”
The sheep man and the mysterious darkness he dwells in feels like the man’s inner self, for the sheep man is part of dolphin hotel and Murakami’s hero returns to seek something. The Sheep Man gives us a hint behind the hero’s sudden desire to return to Dolphin hotel.
“You lost lots of things. Lost lots of precious things. Not anybody’s fault. But each time you lost something, you dropped a whole string of things with it.”
And somehow the reader picks up a clue that will allow him/her to make sense of the book.
Rarely do we talk of death, but never is it absent
Death is common in Murakami’s novel. I am not sure if the author has a true fascination for it, but it makes its way in most (if not all) of his novels. Dance is no exception. Here, the narrator discovers his connection to death. There’s a certain Midas-like touch to him where the people he meets, seem to die. Is it mere coincidence? We soon discover in some voodoo-esque vision their deaths were meant to happen. I felt these deaths were meant to drive a point. Our nameless hero takes things for granted and if anything, losing people even those we aren’t that close to brings insight to life’s fragility. As extreme as death may seem, I felt the hero needed to be shaken out of his apathetic habit.
And they ask us to dance, dance we shall.
The novel is a journey to a metaphorical dance. We follow the narrator go with the rhythm of his life. He doesn’t over think his decisions. He dances to the tune and discovers that in the random events a connection can be drawn. Everything seems like a big play on fate, while at the same time it echoes the idea that we are the decisions that we make.
In the case of our narrator, he opened himself up to the events and as he does, he meets people, hear their lives, and meet himself.
So, did I like it?
After re-reading Dance, I found myself smiling. Its place in my list of favorite books remains. It is for the same reason it was a favorite seven (7) years ago—it spoke to me. The narrator’s life, his journey was tied closely to mine…the sense of loss, the sense of fleetness, the desire for solidity, the relaitonship with people, the warmth, and the darkness all melded into one person. Yup. That’s me…most definitely.
Is it Murakami’s best work? No, it isn’t. Wind-Up Bird Chronicle remains his best. But it’s definitely better than Hard Boiled Wonderland and his lighter weight novels such as After Dark and Sputnik Sweethearts. Then again, that’s me.
Yuki’s (the teenager) father’s name is Hiraku Makimura which is an anagram for Haruki Murakami.
*Note: I generally do not re-read books, however I re-read this particular Murakami as a friend gave it to me as a gift. My first read of Dance was a borrowed copy.