“ Author: Haruki Murakami „
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Short Stories, Fiction
First Published: 2006 (in English)
Everyone in my creative writing class at university was constantly talking about how brilliant Haruki Murakami is. Having never read any Murakami before, I decided to try his collection of short stories 'Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.' Initially, I found the stories hard to engage with, as I felt that they lacked a plot or even a purpose for reading them. As I reached the end of each story I was left thinking, 'what was the point in that?' as there was no moral conclusion or even an explanation of the events.
Admittedly, some of the stories were enjoyable, my favourite being 'Chance Traveller,' in which the narrator and his friend discuss coincidental encounters they have had, which leads to a family reunion. This tale was more uplifting and had a sense of purpose and closure at the end, which I felt was lacking in some of the other tales. Other stories that I enjoyed include, 'The Mirror,' which captures a ghostly experience in an abandoned school, 'A Perfect Day For Kangaroos,' which literally discusses what is said in the title, but it makes a pleasant read, and 'The Ice Man,' whose mythic elements I associated with Angela Carter's collection, 'The Bloody Chamber.'
I found that the stories towards the end of the book were much better than the first ones, and were much more complete in their structure. However, from my experience of reading Murakami, I wouldn't feel compelled to read another one of his books, which I was disappointed about as everyone had recommended him so highly. I know that there are plenty of Murakami fans out there who love his work, but I'm afraid I just didn't quite 'click' or understand the appeal of it.
Favourite quote: 'What I saw wasn't a ghost. It was simply - myself. I can never forget how terrified I was that night, and whenever I remember it, this thought always springs to mind: that the most frightening thing in the world is our own self. What do you think?'
It's been 23 years since Haruki Murakami's first piece of literature; a work that came to out of a spur, and goaded his career onwards because of a prize in a writing competion in his native Japan. Now aged 53, Murakami is still writing novels. He's completing one as I write most likely, and the month after sees the English translation publication of another set of short stories ('after the quake' (sic)). Prof. Jay Rubin who has translated some of Murakami's best works (the metaphoric-detective classic 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle', and the mega-selling 'Norwegian Wood'), and is a self-confessed fan of Murakami, has produced for us a rather weighty volume of Murakami's career to date - 12 major works, and numerous short stories, essays, articles and what-not - presenting us mainly, a digestible but still vaguely scholarly dissection of his works intwined with some biography. Biographically, Haruki Murakami is rather boring individually. Up until his mid-30's he'd had a vague cliche-beatniky-writer lifestyle (i.e. drink and ciggies), which he abandoned by giving up smoking and running marathons, but even so Murakami's 'real' life is hugely different from the lives and worlds he creates in his fiction. He currently resides in Japan (after a long hiatus, most of which was in the US) with his wife and business-handler Yoko living with cats (no kids, and no regrets), and living as much of a quiet life in tandem with travel, as possible. After graduating (and detesting the thought of being a salaryman) he and Yoko opened a Jazz Bar (funded by a loan from Yoko's father) that has become the place of pilgrimage for neurotic fans. The 13 chapters and the appendix chronicle pretty much, the conception and initiation of stories and a dissection, and critique. At some points Rubin is not afraid to point out poor works, and at points it's also noted that Murakami thinks that some
people try to find symbolic meanings in events/object he'd not meant to, atleast unconsciously. Which is what makes this lighthearted even more so, aside from the friendly text lecture of Rubin. And Murakami is reknowned for his great sense of humour. The cover artwork depicts a vinyl with the title, no doubt hinting at the reference of Murakami's 'rhythm' in writing, which is to cut the fat out from his sentences to just deliver the bare essentials. So he's not too dissimilar to writers like Kurt Vonnegut. In his humble beginnings with 'Hear The Wind Sing', Murakami (then 30) was quite a overly humble and conscious writer, which showed in the opening of that book with diary-like-words that rang to the effect of "I don't know how to write a book, so let's proceed anyway"; he began to morph along the way into his trademark style by the time he wrote 'A Wild Sheep Chase' in 1983; which was a culmination of little themes used before, forged into a ball. More significantly he was crossing the Japanese first-person 'I' (meaning 'boku' in Japanese) tradition with his unashamedly full-on Western influeneces, particularly the American ones such as Raymond Carver and Truman Capote. Japanese writers, including the legendary Mishima failed to make an impact on this literal rebel, but Murakami was beginning to cause a rumble in Japan (then later globally), though not without his critics even then. A few years later 'Hard-boiled Wonderland and The End of the World' would see Murakami turning into a literary gargantuan. His bold creativeness and literal epicness began to show even his critics that he was not a trash-fiction writer to be ignored (even his 'competitors' were impressed). His writings maybe extremely accessible, but the payload is not fast-food. His intention to write so captivatingly was the result of fighting a silent war with much more viable modern en
tertainments such as television (of which Murakami and Mrs. are both wary of; especially after one poor Japanese movie of a book). More brilliant short stories down the line (a collection of which a selection would later appear in English translation), and Murakami was about to be submerged in writer-celebrity status (Imagine like a local J.K. Rowling now, somewhat) in Japan with the release of his elaborate (2 volumed novelty) and off-centre love story 'Norwegian Wood'). Luckily he was abroad - and had stayed away from Japan (initially out of disinterest in his country) for much of 9yrs (apart from business) since '87. Things were becoming ridiculous in Japan surrounding the book, almost as you'd expect. A media hyperbole made Murakami retreat in embarrasment from the initial hyperbolic fuss. Murakami is not comfortable with celebrity. In a bid for returning to the "good old days" and relaxing, Murakami worked on 'Dance, Dance Dance' (the sequel to 'A Wild Sheep Chase') abroad. Sadly (though I disagree with Rubin), 'Dance...' was seen as a lull for Murakami, and even self-admittedly. It treaded through mundanity, and cliche retreats of his trademarks. Still, it was a fun work for Murakami, and I'm sure there are those who are keen to defend this work as much as myself. 'South Of The Border, West Of The Sun', a kind of off-spring to 'Norwegian Wood' arrived by the time, Murakami was starting to make some waves in America, despite having had his major work translated since 1983 (particularly by Alfred Birnbaum). For this novel, and a few other works, Rubin's colleague from old days took (Phillip Gabriel) took the helm. This work however in retrospect was the bridge to one of Murakami's most finest works to date; '94's mammoth three-volume (condensed into one for English) 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle'. This book melded the best of his past with a
nod towards forging a new identity by taking on-board, to quote Murakami "a social responsibility as a writer"; shown by a more intense and dark pursuit into "the other world", beautifully crafted, and meticulously researched against the ills of Japanese society so rooted in the past. By this time Murakami's popularity was bubbling globally, and Murakami was desperately wanted to give lecturers in some of America's most established universities. A turning-point came in Murakami's life when he finally returned to Japan with a new-found comfort in his native country, partly aided by his dark but cleansing only non-fiction work to date 'Underground' that documented the infamous Tokyo Gas Attack; featuring interviews with both victims and members (former) of the Aum cult. Murakami was a roll, and so were his translators. Following this, Rubin agrees with me that 'Sputnik Sweetheart' was another lull in Murakami's creativity that only served to replenish our good-humoured writer (Murakami had a website of the most bizarre nature). And now, English readers await his next (rumoured mostly non-surreal, but good) collection of short stories to see where Murakami was in minset during '99; wherever he's heading now we'll never know 'til soon, but we know he's still got a number of works in him. The appendix contains translation notes on Murakami, which are rather boring to read unless you really are fascinated with the process (though it does shed some light on why it is quite a task with a multitude of considerations), and a bibliography of all Murakami's work-to-date; Japanese and English, major and minor works. An extensive index and notes section caps the book off. Overall, I wasn't dissapointed in this book, but I didn't expect much and that's what I got. Murakami is a writer who most will agree is one to be enjoyed, not put under a microscope; and
the same goes for the man. People who have read all his English works to date will find it mostly serves as a re-cap and points out "oh yeah" moments, and "interesting"; but beyond that this book isn't a neccessary read for fans of his. Despite it's easyness, this book belongs in the scholarly domain, or for the over-obsessed. The rest of us can just keep on reading or sighing or smiling. Also for £12.99 (and a paperback), it is a tad pricey. The joy of Murakami lies in ignoring him (respectfully of course), and yawning at commentary. Go and buy 'A Wild Sheep Chase'.