To be perfectly honest with you – Murakami’s novels aren’t for everyone. The lack of a coherent and rational plot, coupled with the strange twists of magical realism and graphic sexual imagery tends to turn A LOT of people off. After all, not everyone can cope with the constant references to Classical music from the pre-baroque period that no one really listens to, nor do most people find characters who mope around their apartments particularly attractive. In other words, reading Murakami is an acquired taste. Liking Murakami is something that’s considered even more exotic. So if you’re one of the kindred souls out there who actually enjoy Murakami’s lack of reason or logic or even a storyline in his novels then I salute you for your patience, and above all – your open-mindedness. If you can accept Murakami’s writing, his queer characters and his spontaneity – then there really isn’t much else that you can’t read.
Who is Haruki Murakami?
Murakami is a Japanese author. His novels and short stories are all written in Japanese before they’re translated by authors like Jay Reuben into English etc (it varies.) Although he doesn’t appear to be as popular in Thailand, in Japan – his recent novel ‘Colourless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage’ sold more than a million copies in the first week after its release. Little else is known about the author, apart from the fact that he’s an extremely private and introverted individual who happens to love writing, running marathons and listening to jazz music. Having graduated with a degree in Greek drama, it is no surprise that most of his novels (like ‘Kafka on the Shore’) combine elements of Greek tragedy and drama in them. If you ever happen to stumble upon his interviews, you’ll immediately notice that he doesn’t say much about his private life. If anything, he tends to be rather elusive when those questions arise and discuss his novels and upcoming works in more detail and length. He has however, admitted that when writing a novel – he has no plan in mind. He doesn’t do any planning or structuring whatsoever before he starts on a new piece of writing. He admits that he simply sits there and waits for epiphanies and inspirations to dawn upon him, and starts writing from there onwards. Whilst most critics would say that this is lazy on his part, I’d beg to differ. If anything, it’s a mark of great genius and talent to be able to improvise and flesh out masterpieces like ’1Q84′ or ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.’ Their spontaneity hits you like a breath of fresh air; there is no pre-ordained notion, no overly complicated plot. Everything is natural and simple.
What are his novels mainly about?
It would be safe to say that Murakami’s novels almost always revolve around an extremely introverted protagonist. He is more often than not a loner; someone who scarcely ventures out of his apartment to interact or socialise with other people unless its absolutely necessary. His protagonists are also however unusually deep, profound, contemplative and burdened with emotional scars of some sort. They lead monotonous, uneventful lives and are therefore completely thrown off guard when something remarkable happens (as always) to disrupt their routine . Whether this might be the disappearance of a wife, a cat or even just a simple nightmare – the protagonist is then led into a whirlwind of events which compel him to question his entire existence and past. The rest of the story is then a mere train of coincidences, strung along by ostentatious references to Jazz music or Murakami’s own favourite classical pieces – all of which somehow bear great significance to the ‘message’ of the story.
Why should you read Murakami’s novels?
The answer is simple. Murakami has a genius knack for capturing the monotony of everyday life and conveying it in an impeccably simple yet moving prose. Whether it’s the act of brushing your teeth, spreading butter on a piece of toast or making spaghetti – he brings life to all of these mundane details. I have yet to find another author who can describe everyday life in such rich and colourful detail, without ever evoking yawns in the reader. Whilst it takes talent to capture the complex in the written word, it takes genius to capture the simplicity of life and weave it in a way which allows the reader to appreciate the beauty in the small things. The startling depth and complexity of his characters never fail to stun me. When you read about his protagonists or even the peripheral characters, you get the sense that you could meet them in a bar, on the train or even on your way home. They aren’t just simply fictional characters – their emotional scars, insecurities and worries make them far more real than they ought to be, and that’s where Murakami’s magic lies; in making the unreal seem far more tangible than reality.
So if you’re new to Murakami, and want to try some of his lighter novels than I’d recommend:
- Norwegian Wood
- Sputnik Sweetheart
- South of the Border, West of the Sun
- What I talk about when I talk about running (more of a memoir)
OR if, having read this, you feel confident that you’ll enjoy his heavier works – then make sure that you read
- The Wind Up Bird Chronicle
- Kafka on the Shore
- Dance, Dance, Dance
- Colourless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage
(or any of his other non-fiction works).