13 September 2014

Meeting Murakami

“Strange things happen in this world,” Haruki Murakami says. “You don’t know why, but they happen.” It could be a guiding motto for all of his fiction, but he is talking specifically about a minor character in his new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The character is a jazz pianist who seems to have made a pact with death, and is able to see people’s auras.

“Why that pianist can see the colours of people, I don’t know,” Murakami muses. “It just happens.” Novels in general, he thinks, benefit from a certain mystery. “If the very important secret is not solved, then readers will be frustrated. That is not what I want. But if a certain kind of secret stays secret, it’s a very sound curiosity. I think readers need it.”

The world’s most popular cult novelist is sipping coffee in the sunny library of an Edinburgh hotel, which – perhaps disappointingly for admirers of his more fantastical yarns – is not reached through a labyrinthine network of subterranean tunnels. Murakami is relaxed and affable, rather than forbiddingly gnomic. “I’m not mysterious!” he says, laughing.

Read the rest at the Guardian.

18 October 2011

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (Harvill)

Haruki Murakami has always been a cult writer, if one can say that about a novelist who regularly sells millions, both in his native Japan and in translation. Well, 1Q84 — an epic romance in three “books” and two volumes — is his cult novel. In Underground (2000), Murakami interviewed former members of the Aum sect and survivors of its 1995 nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway. In that book, he implicitly promised a fictional engagement with the subject of cults; now he has delivered. Continued →

9 June 2007

After Dark, by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)

The night needs to be re-enchanted. So in the nocturnal milieu of Tokyo’s 24-hour cafes and love hotels, Haruki Murakami’s new novel makes an eerie metaphysical wager. As the manager of a small jazz bar (whom it is tempting to read as an avatar of the author himself) says at one point: “Time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night. You can’t fight it.”

Just before midnight, we meet a young woman, Mari, smoking and reading a book in a coffee shop. Before dawn she will have met a trombonist, Takahashi, as well as Kaoru, the tough blonde manager of a local love hotel, where a Chinese prostitute is beaten up by a mysterious man. Meanwhile, Mari’s sister Eri is asleep, as she has been for the last two months, and something very strange is happening in her bedroom. An unplugged television set sparks to life, showing a room where a man sits wearing a cellophane mask. Later, Eri will be sucked through the screen and trapped in that room. Continued →

1 May 2001

Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (Harvill)

The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has been enjoying a slowly growing English-language readership since the publication here of his magnum opus, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, in 1998. Murakami’s narrators are usually self-professedly ordinary men, who seek little more from life than to sit at the kitchen table listening to jazz and drinking beer. But extraordinary things keep on happening to them: one is inveigled into tracking down an evil sheep that wants to take over the world; another’s wife disappears, and then he finds himself trapped down a dry well.

The narrator of Sputnik Sweetheart is another Murakami everyman, a primary-school teacher known to the reader only as “K”. His best friend, Sumire, is a struggling writer: one of those lovable egotists, she throws Kerouacian poses, and goes everywhere in a second-hand herringbone coat and unnecessary Dizzy Gillespie spectacles. Sumire finds it hard to finish anything she writes, and is mystified by the phenomenon of sexual desire, an urge she has never felt. Despite this, and her habit of placing discursive telephone calls from the park at 4am, K is in love with her. Continued →

27 May 2000

Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (Harvill)
Underground, by Haruki Murakami (Harvill)

The men who narrate Haruki Murakami’s novels repeatedly claim to be utterly ordinary. They live blameless lives, keep their heads down, indulge moderately in jazz and beer, hope things will stay the same. And yet something happens: the ordinary man is catapulted into deranged circumstances. He might be forced to hunt down an evil sheep that wants to take over the world, or to investigate his wife’s spectral disappearance.

Norwegian Wood, first published in Japan 13 years ago but only now translated for a western audience, might therefore puzzle the reader who has grown to love Murakami’s haunting, melancholy surrealism: its action is resolutely realistic. And yet the narrator, Toru Watanabe, is just as baffled by life. At one point he writes: “I have never lied to anyone, and I have taken care over the years not to hurt other people. And yet I find myself tossed into this labyrinth.” There is no moral justice in Murakami’s world; there is only the duty – both epistemological and moral – to try to understand. Continued →