Haruki Murakami. What can I say? He has been variously described as one of Japan’s leading 20th Century novelists and even one of the world’s greatest living novelists. He has won renown for being probably the most popular novelistof the past 15 years in Japan (his novel Norwegian Wood accomplished this) as well as being perhaps one of the few Japanese authors to become popular in the West. He has scorned Japanese literary tradition, filling his novels with reference to Western (and, in particular, American) culture. He has avoided celebrity, even to the extent of moving out of Japan for 10 years after Norwegian Wood catapulted him to unwanted fame at home.
All this is unimportant to me. Not so long ago I stumbled across a short story named Airplane by a Japanese author named Murakami. The story enthralled me, I had never read anything quite like it. A quick web-search revealed an online copy of an out-of-print novel of his named Pinball, 1972. I read it and have been feeding my craving for more Murakami ever since.
I’ve come to the conclusion that’s not the themes he deals with that enthrall me so, they’re interesting, mostly vaguely postmodern (if I may be so pretentious as to use the term.) I think I shall devote a future post to my analysis of his themes, they sum up quite nicely what I feel to be defining ingredients in the ‘postmodern’ novel. It’s not the way in which he portrays his characters. It’s not even the stories he tells. I am fascinated because Murakami seems to approach things from a unique perspective that seems to innately make much sense to me. Even when he says something that I disagree with, the way in which he says it rarely fails to strike a chord. It’s a quite wonderful thing.
And what can I say about his language? While at first glance it would appear to be simplicity itself, the flow of it is rarely short of beautiful, often even breathtaking. Above all, he writes in a style that is as unique as any I have ever come across. I think an example is the best way to illustrate my point. The following is a short quote from Pinball, 1973:
Everybody was up to here in troubles, it seemed. Trouble fell like rain from the heavens, and we just couldn’t get enough of it. We went around picking up the stuff and cramming our pockets full of it. Even now I can’t figure out why we persisted in doing that. Maybe we mistook it for something else.
I think I would like to devote a few future posts to my thoughts on his style, his themes and perhaps also his unique use of metaphor and simile. This can all lead up to my thoughts on novels in general, how they reflect popular thought and what the next thematic trend is likely to be (all in my oh-so-humble and none-too-qualified opinion of course).
It would be better, however, to first give a few links:
* Murakami’s second novel, now out of print. This has been my favourite so far.
* The short story that started it all for me.
Jazz Coffee Shop
* This site contains many of Murakami’s stories translated into English.