How does Haruki Murakami present the themes in The 100% Perfect Girl?
This story is from the AQA GCSE English Literature short story anthology Sunlight on the Grass.
This story is about the strangeness of the idea of true love. What are the odds we will ever meet ‘the one’ if there is only one. How would we know if we did meet them? In the second part of the story, the words ‘believe’ and ’miracle’ are repeated many times in quick succession. Love is, ‘a miracle, a cosmic miracle’. The repetition emphasises the sheer scale of perfect love, ‘cosmic’ suggesting both the divine and scientific bases of love. Yet it’s also a very ‘ordinary’, even ‘boring’ day to day event. Ordinariness is juxtaposed with fairytale and cosmic miracle, to show how we construct love in imagination, and in reality.
In the first section, Murakami asks whether if we met the 100% person, how could we have the guts to make something of it, let alone speak to them, and if we did, what if we weren’t ‘the one’ for them? He lingers in the one moment of passing her on the street as if time stops and fate is hanging in the balance. He imagines her dialogue in crisp detail: ‘Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you’re not the 100% perfect boy for me.’ The balanced construction sets his feeling she is ‘100% perfect’ against its antithesis – ‘you’re not the 100%… for me’. This shows how unlikely love is, that it is so easily cancelled out, even though he has achieved the unlikely figure of 100% perfection. The narrator’s fears are exaggerated by how perfect he thinks she is. ’100%’ is too much, as is the following metaphor: ‘This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock built when peace filled the world’. This is an impossible image, and may suggest the dangers of needing perfection: you’re sure to be disappointed, or paralysed in the face of it. His vision is attractive though, and in a way, we want to believe with him, that this is possible.
The story is dominated by a wistful longing, which we see in the words ‘perfect’ and ‘beautiful’ in the title and also the word ‘dream’. He describes himself in third person in the second section as an ‘ordinary lonely boy’, as if he can only see himself clearly with distance, longing to be completed by the ‘ordinary lonely girl’ who makes up the other half of the sentence. He says they were ‘like all the others’ as if the entire human condition is of loneliness longing for love. Interestingly, most of the actual ‘events’ happen in the fairytale, making a sharp point about the extent to which dreams can ruin reality, how ideas are fine, but at some point, they need to be translated into action. One reason this story can feel frustrating is that nothing actually happens. Like the ‘someone’ who the narrator tells his story to, we feel annoyed at the narrator. Doesn’t he see for it to be a story, for love to exist, someone has to do something? It’s ironic that it’s only in the fairytale section that anything ‘actually happened’. In the first section, the narrator’s fears surface that she ‘wouldn’t believe’ and ‘might not want to talk to me’, with heavy use of the subjunctive (could/would/should) to show that he’s lost in fearful possibilities. He details his imaginary nervous breakdown – ‘I’d probably go to pieces. I’d never recover from the shock’ – with almost as much vivid care as he details the girl. Murakami may be showing the dangers of love in general, but also in this specific case, the man seems to live overly in his imagination.
This isn’t a story of ‘meeting’, it is only a story of ‘seeing’. The narrator insists it is important, though nothing happens and he can give no suitable reasons why she is ‘perfect’. When asked if she’s good-looking, he ‘can’t remember’, ‘can’t recall’ and is ‘no great beauty’. The depth of his analysis is ‘it’s weird’ or ‘strange’. Even before he’s finished telling his story to ‘someone’, they are ‘already bored’. His listener needs reasons, or action, listing verbs the man might have done: ‘do’, ‘talk’, or ‘follow’. The man says casually ‘nah’. Even he makes it seem unimportant when he says ‘just passed her.’ This echoes the first sentence. ‘I walk past the 100% perfect girl’. The first sentence contains the only event in the entire story. Even in the present tense (walk), it’s already ‘past’. The notion that a man and woman in their thirties can be ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ adds to the detached, child-like feel. Perhaps he isn’t ready, emotionally to engage with the adult world: he’s trapped in a helpless immature state, telling fairy stories rather than actually doing something about it.
The woman does feel real though. He details her cleanly, and critically: as ‘not that good looking’, ‘doesn’t stand out’ and ‘her hair is still bent out of shape’. This immediately establishes that the woman isn’t objectively ‘100% perfect’, but she is ‘100%’ for him: which means she is 100% perfect, because from his point of view, that’s all that matters. The narrator’s language is chatty and he appeals directly to the reader where he says ‘tell you the truth’, as if he’s inviting us to share in the question of love. The whole story deals with the philosophical questions around finding true love. Murakami also deals with the question of whether love is rational. Though the ‘girl’ isn’t ‘even close to a ‘girl’’, his reaction is physical and instant: ‘The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest.’ It’s a gut reaction. That’s all we need to know. He says – sheepishly – that he has no evidence, and asks us simply to believe that she is perfect. Through this, Murakami invites us to share in the experience of love: it’s blind faith, without logic, happens instantly and doubt always lingers. Also, one person cannot write it alone, hence the ‘someone’s frustration: someone has to act. Love is a relationship, and cannot be generated in one person’s imagination alone. It has to get out into the real world, and stand real tests, not the dysfunctional fairytale test devised in the second section.
I think if I have to write any more about this story I may go mad. You get the general idea though…! There are roughly 1,100 words in this essay and it would be graded top A*.