Sometimes you come across a writer you love so much that when someone casually asks you if you know of any good authors, you have to restrain yourself from shouting it in their face and practically begging them to read them. In an attempt to avoid this socially embarrassing situation, I have decided to spread my appreciation for the wonderful Haruki Murakami through a different medium, The Founder.
I stumbled across Murakami purely by accident. In possession of a Waterstones gift voucher and having no idea what book to buy, I was perusing the stacks when I came across a handwritten cue card taped to a shelf saying ‘Waterstones recommends Haruki Murakami.’ Being a thrifty shopper, I immediately decided to buy the largest of his volumes available and that was that. I really had no idea what to expect but was immediately struck by the cool, calm prose and can commend not only the author but also the translator! The narrative is shaped by such expert hands that it makes something mystical out of the ordinary, such as the preparation of spaghetti, as well as beauty in the less than ordinary, such as the stunning account of a man being skinned alive, all in the space of one novel. The premise is essentially simple; when Toru Okada’s cat disappears, a series of extraordinary events are triggered, including mysterious phone calls and a host of fleeting characters, and cumulating in a grand metaphysical sequence in a well where the narrator battles it out in the dream world. Now if this has captured attention, then Murakami is the novelist for you.
Once I had read ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ I was hooked, not only by the elegant, eccentric narrative but also by the involvement in the subconscious and dream state. In his world of smooth monochromes and elevated simplicity, it seems perfectly probable that this realm of dreams can interact so viscerally with everyday life.
His most famous novel is ‘Kafka on the Shore’, which also involves a heavy interest in cats and the metaphysical. Narrated in turn by a 15 year old runaway called Kafka and a man called Nakata who can communicate with cats, their interrelating tales also culminate in the metaphysical world. This narrative concept is also explored in ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’ but to slightly lesser success. Another well known work that made Murakami an unexpected icon of Japanese youth was ‘Norwegian Wood’, a slightly more conventional novel that depicts a man torn between two women. Though not so explicitly connected with the dream world, this aspect is still present in the novel, especially through the characteristically ambiguous and seductive female character present in many of his novels.
All I can say is that if you fancy reading something different this term or want a novel that will really alter the way you view the world and immerse you in Japanese society, then go for Murakami. His most accessible novel has to be ‘Kafka on the Shore’, which really epitomises his style, but in my heart, my favourite will always be ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ as it was the chance novel that bought me to him.