Some writers have a way of intellectually challenging their readers, giving their work an addictive quality that constantly introduces new ideas and leaves the reader wanting more. Haruki Murakami is one of those writers and I seem to be dragging his work out over time in my life, never reading more than one of his books a year, and never two in a row. His work has to be taken in small doses so that you can mull things over in between. Murakami’s use of detailed descriptions, sometimes on tangents that seem unrelated to the main narrative, make you feel as if you are watching his books rather than reading them. All of this detail and tangential narrative requires concentration and analysis. He’s not a beach read.
Born in Kyoto, Japan in 1949, Murakami was a Theatre Arts Major in college and once owned a Jazz bar in Tokyo. Legend has it that a baseball game gave him the inspiration to write his first novel.
That’s all I know about Murakami as a person. As a writer, he takes his reader on strange and dark adventures, to places that aren’t identifiable yet feel vaguely familiar. His books are filled with other worlds and characters, often seeking something that they, like us, sometimes find and sometimes don’t. Life doesn’t always have a happy ending, and his stories cause discomfort. Despite all of that I find myself drawn to his work.
Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is my favorite. Telling the story from two alternating narratives, Murakami jostles you between a world, futuristic, yet much like our own, and a dreamland full of incomplete humans who may have lost their spirit. One narrator works for an Orwelian government, encrypting messages that others seem fated to steal in a constant circle of secrets and espionage. The other enters a walled town full of partial people named and defined only by their job titles. He cannot remember anything about himself. After arriving in the Town, he becomes a reader in a library full of dreams stored in unicorn skulls. Though separate, the two narrations relate to each other in unexpected ways, leaving the reader feeling like the two narrators are more connected than at first appearances.
Fantastical, mysterious, and terrifying, Murakami’s narrators and their worlds provide insight into the human condition.
Wind Up Bird Chronicle meanders. There’s no better way to describe it. Toru, the main character, loses both his cat and his cheating wife, but mostly winds up looking for himself. The characters Toru encounters are intricately rendered, ranging from a headstrong teenage girl and seductive psychics, to an old army Lieutenant whose detailed memory of watching a comrade be skinned alive is not for the faint of heart. Murakami’s narrative wanders with Toru’s mind, so be prepared for plenty of elaborate tangents and side notes, just think of them as extra short stories, you get more for your money that way.
The cat comes back. The wife and Toru’s sense of self…well you’ll have to read it to find out and then it still may not be clear, but that’s Murakami.
What’s your favorite Murakami novel? Or do you prefer What I Talk about When I Talk About Running? Let us know in the comments.