Bringing together two of my favourite things

Bringing together two of my favourite things

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Murakami kick

I've been reading a lot of Haruki Murakami lately. In the past few weeks, I've devoured Dance, Dance, Dance; The Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; A Wild Sheep Chase (which loosely precedes Dance, Dance, Dance, but if you read it afterwards, as I did, no harm done); and the short-story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running are on my bookshelf.

The first time I heard about Murakami was during the intensive conversational Japanese class I took before my move to Japan. One of the students mentioned she was taking the class because she wanted to read Murakami in the original Japanese (I longed to ask ``so, a conversational class?'' but refrained). In any case, I was quite struck by that. . . it seemed a lot of trouble to go to for one writer.

I didn't read my first book by him, Norwegian Wood (probably his most well-known work), until several months later in Japan (in English). The book is, very simply, the story of a young Japanese male and his complicated friendship/relationship with three women. While it contains the same loneliness and loss theme, and the same somewhat detached tone -- as if the first-person narrator is look at his life from outside -- that characterise his other works, the similarities end there.

Norwegian Wood is the only book (that I've read, and possibly of all his fiction works) that deviates from his surreal (magical-realist?), dreamlike writing style. (It is also quite a bit more emotional than the rest of his books.) All the others are sprinkled with fantastic features -- including the ghosts of several dead friends, a sheep that takes over people's lives and a world where sound can be removed. While these seem like strange ways to populate a book, he makes them work without overcomplicating the already complex plots.

There is some suspense in most of Murakami's novels, but not much, which, in some instances, may make them a bit of a plod. Still, he has such strong cadence and such control over his words (at least his translators do) that they do move along quite well and hard to put down.

I had a harder time with the short stories. I would turn the page expecting a "proper" ending to a story, and find there wasn't one. That is the point of the stories, but I wanted a conclusion that made sense, satisfactory answers to the questions raised, and often didn't find them. I don't think I am cut out for Murakami's short stories.

A colleague who has read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle told me that the book "never ends" (it does look pretty long one). In most cases, that would make me steer clear. In this instance however, it made me go looking for it. A Murakami novel that never ends really sounds quite appealing!

*I haven't done too much deep thinking about the literary aspects of what I read, and this blog is an attempt to change that. If you have suggestions on how to make it better, please let me know!

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