Haruki Murakami

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I’ve read so many of Murakami’s books that I can’t review them individually*. Instead, I’m going to write a fan post about him.

He is my favourite writer. I like a lot of different writers, each of whom has what it takes to be a favourite. Writers whose books I have to read because I know I’m going to like what they’ve written. I like Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, William Faulkner, David Mitchell, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Glen Duncan, Andrey Kurkov, and Flannery O’Connor in that way. Others as well, but mainly them.

Murakami, though, is something else. My first encounter with him was in the Waterstone’s bookshop on Deansgate in Manchester. I was casting around for something new, wanting a change from the classics I’d been gorging on. I picked up a book with a pristine white cover, black, silver and red type, and the image of a broken record. I read the first paragraph and my heart almost stopped. The book was Dance Dance Dance. That’s how it started.

I read A Wild Sheep Chase as a result of reading Dance Dance Dance, not realising that it had come out before and the similarities between the stories actually worked in the opposite direction to the one I thought they did. But that in itself is very Murakami.

Murakami’s writing style has been described as Kafkaesque. Apart from Metamorphosis years ago, I’ve only recently read any Kafka. (The Castle – brilliant, you should read it.) I suppose I can see what people mean – the symbolism, the dreamscapes, the circular realities that aren’t quite real. Oh, and he wrote a book called Kafka on the Shore. And not too long ago, he reimagined Metamorphosis from the perspective of the cockroach who in Murakami’s version turned into Gregor. It was in The New Yorker. Track it down in their archive.

I think Murakami is more like Borges, though. Phantom books, phantom countries, labyrinths, tunnels, mysteries to be cracked, the greatest of which is time. They’re on the same page in slightly different books.

I feel recognised in Murakami’s writing. That’s why I love him so much. His characters react to situations in a way that makes perfect sense to me. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is my favourite of his books. I like the idea of a well where I can hide from everything else that is going on in the world and just wait it out. I’d like to think that I could put my life on hold at times and go off on a quest for something insignificantly significant. Maybe not a pinball machine, or a sheep that’s secretly running the world, or a cat that can talk to me, but something that might fit into the jigsaw hole in the puzzle.

Murakami understands solitude, as well. It runs through all of his books. He understands that need for separation from the people around us from time to time. He also recognises that the world around us might not be as it seems, and that we are ignoring it because to acknowledge it would potentially bring everything crashing down on our heads. Or free us from the tyranny of societal norms.

I know that people criticise him for his repetition of themes, but it seems to me that he is exploring something fundamental about himself, and being extremely entertaining and diverting in the process.

My husband bought me Murakami’s memoir (the title of this blog is in homage to Murakami and his favourite author Raymond Carver). It’s a delight, a peek into his mind through the prism of running. I read a lot of biographies and autobiographies, but always with a pinch of hesitation when it’s someone I like and admire. There’s always that fear that the bubble will burst, their feet will turn to clay, and I’ll have to start feeling differently about their work. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running gives just enough of Murakami without giving everything of Murakami.

In March last year, I broke a golden rule. I never try to have personal encounters with people in the public eye whose work has meaning for me. I did it once, with someone in a band that meant a lot to me, and it was a bad experience. Murakami started it, though, by setting up a website where he would answer questions from the public as though he was an agony uncle. I’m not allowed to post exactly what I wrote or what his reply was, but I asked him a question (about which of his books is easiest to read in Japanese for someone who speaks Japanese like a six year old) and he sent me a reply. The story he recommended I read is On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning, and it’s in a book called Kangaroo Weather. We didn’t go to any bookshops in Japan on our last trip, but I will buy it one day.

Murakami made my day with that email.

*I read Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage within the date range of the reviews I’m adding to this blog, though, so I will post my jottings on that one.

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5 thoughts on “Haruki Murakami

  1. I feel the same way about Murakami. I usually say he and Barbara Kingsolver are my two favorite writers, at the head of a short list (which also includes Vonnegut and Mitchell, incidentally), but honestly, I know who I’d choose if I had to pick just one. After Dark was my first of his books, and though I’ve read many of them now, I’ve deliberately not hurried to finish because I love knowing there are more for me to read. How do you feel about his short stories? My experience so far has been that I greatly prefer his novels, but I enjoy reading the short stories even if I don’t connect with them in the same sweeping way.

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    1. I enjoy his short stories, but know what you mean about not connecting with them in the same way. I think that’s the nature of short stories, though. They’re a spyhole we peep through, or a canapé at a party. With Murakami more than any writer, I sometimes feel as though they’re fragments of things he’s started but doesn’t know how to finish yet, and that maybe he releases them into the wild to breathe a little before he understands what they are and can turn them into something bigger. I read The Elephant Vanishes most recently, and really enjoyed that one. The other collection I’ve read is Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, which I found hit and miss.

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