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gil 14th Feb 2005 11:46

Haruki Murakami
I've just read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, and, I can tell you, I'll be reading more of this Haruki Murakami chap.

The story is about a man whose cat disappears and whose wife walks out on him while he's out of work; a man who starts to have strange phone calls and encounters with people, mostly women, who are trying to help him. He has surreal dreams and visions, people tell him horrifying stories, and the long book finishes with a "happy ending".

So far, so uninteresting. I can only tell you that I was gripped from beginning to end by the style, the unexpected twists and the variety of the narrative, not least by the accounts of the wartime Japanese occupation of China, the workaday details about Tokyo and by the general air of mystery throughout.

I was deeply impressed with the translation, which was wonderfully Western vernacular, and I set out to research Jay Rubin, the translator. I discovered that Murakami himself speaks and reads English fluently, and frequently writes a story in English before translating it to Japanese, and that the translation was very much a co-operative effort.

Moreover, Murakami cites as his influences various Western authors, including Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Chandler, so it is no wonder that I can easily identify with his style.

Even more remarkably, The Wind-up Bird Chronicles was originally published in serial form in a Japanese magazine (though there is no sign of Boz in his delivery), and originally ended at about two thirds its current size, which would have been quite unsatisfactory to me.

Anyway, I don't want to give any spoilers in this initial review, though I'll happily discuss details with interested parties. Suffice to say that I was captivated.


John Self 14th Feb 2005 12:27

Well now. I do have a copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but haven't got around to it yet. Murakami seems to have become ubiquitous in recent years so I am probably missing something but I've never enjoyed his stuff that much in the past. It must be ten years ago that I read A Wild Sheep Chase which I thought was quite interesting but had a sort of coldness or distance or other kind of other-ness that I didn't really enjoy - perhaps the very qualities that others appreciate in him. Nonetheless I went on to read The Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which I felt more or less the same about: it had some great ideas, only one of which I can remember now - the staff or stick which manages to contain all the information in an encyclopaedia just from the placement of one notch along its surface, and I'm not telling how - but again it failed to thrill me in any visceral, coup-de-foudre way. I do have a constitutional dislike of things that seem to me to be determinedly "quirky" and it may be that, although I understand that in the years since he has really taken off in this country, a lot of the books that have been translated - Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart, South of the Border West of the Sun - are more naturalistic; but I haven't read any of those. I think it was in the Guardian where they had a profile of him that explained one aspect of his appeal as being that he puts things into literature in Japan that 'the kids' appreciate and that aren't normally seen as fit for lit., giving examples that (I am certain) included spaghetti and The Beatles. And I thought: well, get down, daddio. Which is entirely unfair as it transplants my Western modishness onto another culture but, well... Anyway gil adds another voice to those insisting that Murakami is a must-read so I am bound to bend sooner or later.

Really, however, wildsheep is the member to ask about Murakami. He takes his name of course from my first of Murakami's novels mentioned above, runs a Murakami discussion site and has even, I believe, interviewed the man himself on stage in front of a paying audience. So I defer...

RC 14th Feb 2005 21:25

MURAKAMI please, somebody fix it, sorry Gil but.

John Self 14th Feb 2005 22:24

I've amended the title accordingly...

gil 15th Feb 2005 10:54


Originally Posted by RC
MURAKAMI please, somebody fix it, sorry Gil but.

Oh, thanks. There's something about that name that I keep getting wrong. I did a search with Marukami, and got a hit, so I thought I'd cracked it.

Wavid 15th Feb 2005 11:56

There are a few Palimposts about Murakami here.

I have the cheapo Ottaker's Norwegian Wood and the large and bonkers-looking Wind Up Bird... in my vast and leaning TBR pile. Am looking forward to them even more now.

gil 20th Sep 2005 16:07

Re: Murakami
Read the whole of A Wild Sheep Chase in airport and flight at the weekend. It's not as good as the Wind-up Bird Chronicle, it's twenty years old, but it is still very entertaining and different.

Coming on it cold, I wasn't absolutely sure if it was a work of fantasy, detective fiction or experimental writing. The prologue didn't seem to be connected with the rest of it. Unlike Wind-up Bird, the translation creaks a little in places and there are quite a few typos even in this 2004 edition.

However, it's a fine roller-coaster ride as a one-sitting book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Surprisingly, the rather weird title actually describes the plot of the book very exactly. Murakami sets the scene and the environment extremely well; the unlikely coincidences and clairvoyant leaps of inspiration are unconvincing, but match the helter-skelter style perfectly. I'm looking forward to Dance, Dance, Dance.

m. 23rd Sep 2005 21:26

Re: Murakami
I loved Dance Dance Dance - if it's not the best book I read this year, then top three for sure (I suppose I shouldn't say anything more before December). BUT - a friend of mine who like me read DDD first (and loved it), now is reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and says there are a lot of things repeated. So you may be slightly disappointed, gil. Well, we'll see. :-D

John Self 24th Sep 2005 0:30

Re: Murakami

I loved Dance Dance Dance - if it's not the best book I read this year, then top three for sure (I suppose I shouldn't say anything more before December).
Indeed. Or even as much as that!! :-o

m. 24th Sep 2005 15:13

Re: Murakami
I'm all contrite, but hey, Jerkass posted a review of his Kadare! Surely then I'm allowed to make a few hints here and there! And gil provoked me, it's his fault. ;-)

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