November 5, 2013
Haruki Murakami wrote After the Quake in response to the 1995 Kobe earthquake. In his characteristically unconventional memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, he states that the short story collection was a turning point in his fiction, when his writing become less introspective and more outward-looking. His new perspective is evident in the greater range and depth of his characters, the third person narratives, and the more mature themes which he explores.
It deals with the earthquake very indirectly. Rather than exploiting the tragedy for drama, he explores it as a psychological phenomenon. In most of the stories, it is ancillary to the main story, but pivotal.
Still present are all the things I love about the writer – the championing of mundane courage, the conversational prose, the off-beat sensibility. My personal favourites in the collection are the last two stories, Super-Frog Saves Tokyo and Honey Pie. In the latter, the main character, also an author, ends on a note that I suspect is autobiographical:
‘I want to write stories that are different from the ones I’ve written so far, Junpei thought: I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for the light so they can hold the ones they love.’
From now on, I’ll be reading Mr Murakami’s later works with this in mind.
January 22, 2013
Dance Dance Dance picks up where A Wild Sheep Chase left off. The unnamed, everyman narrator is shell-shocked from the events of the previous novel and worried that he has no connection to the world except for his well-worn Subaru. He makes a comfortable living on whatever freelance writing jobs come his way, or “shovelling cultural snow” as he puts it, and spends the rest of his time doing the things that Murakami protagonists do: drinking beer, walking the streets, making simple meals and listening to music. He is, in a word, adrift.
But someone is crying out for him in the dark: his old girlfriend, Kiki, with the perfect ears, who disappeared at the end of the last novel. To pick up the thread of his life, he knows he must find her. His search takes him back to Sapporo, to the Dolphin Hotel, which sets in motion a chain of events that bring into his orbit a psychic fourteen-year-old Talking Heads fan, her world class photographer and space cadet mother, a depressive movie star who hates his dependable image, and the Sheep Man, who tells him one thing: “You gotta dance.”
Dance Dance Dance was published after Norwegian Wood, which earned Murakami such unwanted fame in Japan that he fled the country. While it is a sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, it is not considered part of the Trilogy of the Rat books that made up Murakami’s first three novels, and it does not carry over any of the political and historical commentary. Instead, it is a much more inward looking, psychological book that sees the author dealing with the trappings of success. Read the rest of this entry »
November 19, 2011
I was clicking around the always excellent Guardian Books page, source of many a mid-work literature fix, when I came across this interview with Hannu Rajaniemi. He seemed endearingly down to earth, is a fellow Murakami fan and his novel, The Quantum Thief, sounded like an interesting concept, so I followed the link to the first piece he had published, Shibuya No Love.
I enjoyed the story, but it’s clearly the work of an inexperienced, though talented, writer. It can be instructive to read the work of less polished authors, though, because the visible seams make it easier to understand what works, and what doesn’t. Read the rest of this entry »
October 1, 2011
Franz Kafka is regarded as one of the best and most influential authors of the 20th Century, and is a major figure in existentialism and magic realism. Like all of his novels, The Trial was left unfinished, but to me, it still read like a complete story. This might be because Kafka blends the surreal and mundane, and you need to relax your logic to be carried along with it. Or it might just be because, by the time I was three quarters of the way through the book, I was sick of it. Read the rest of this entry »
July 28, 2011
Considering some of Murakami’s stories involve dancing dwarves, talking cats and sheep with plans for world domination, you’d expect a novel in which he explores Tokyo’s dark side to be pretty damn strange. But surprisingly, After Dark is one of his less weird novels. Sure, a girl gets trapped inside a TV set for a bit, but that’s as mundane as a walk to the shops for this author.
Most of the action in After Dark takes place in an unnamed entertainment district, one of those places like Shibuya that lend themselves to stereotypical images of modern Japan, full of giant television screens, neon signs and pay-by-the-hour “love hotels”. Murakami perfectly captures the nightlife and atmosphere of Tokyo: the salary men rushing for the last train; the constant traffic of kids heading between convenience stores and karaoke bars; the scavenging rats, cats and crows. Read the rest of this entry »
April 30, 2011
A sheep with a star shaped mark on its back and possibly nefarious designs for the human race. A girl with supernaturally dazzling ears and a sixth sense. A dying right-wing power broker. A narrator haunted by a whale’s penis. A slurring dwarf in a sheep outfit. What could they all have to do with each other? Why, they’re all part of the plot of one of Haruki Murakami’s earliest novels, A Wild Sheep Chase. Naturally. Read the rest of this entry »
March 14, 2011
The Master and Margarita is a smart satire of Stalin’s Russia and a bold reinterpretation of Christian mythology, but what I loved most about it is its lush imaginativeness, its beautiful, dark images of an unhappy maidservant fleeing her former life on a flying pig, or Satan’s ball with its ape jazz band and crystal pool of wine, attended by histories greatest villains like Caligula, Messalina and, just for fun, polar bears.
Its plot can be summarised as: the devil pays a visit to Stalin’s Moscow. It is written in the kind of tight, Russian prose that you find in Dostoevsky, but with a playfulness that sometimes has the author breaking the fourth wall, while the novel’s structure is, to put it bluntly, weird. Read the rest of this entry »