Thread: Haruki Murakami
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Old 14th Feb 2014, 17:54   #75
kjml
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Default Re: Haruki Murakami

I just fnished reading South of the Border/West of the Sun (hereafter S/W) and, I think, I had a reaction similar - in its decidedly mild intensity at least - to that of Jerkass. My reaction was a tepid appreciation mixed with a little anoyance at the unresolved mysteries. Yes, there are more than one.

I think Murakami's S/W is more like a philosophical novel of a dilemma than it is like the traditional exploration of character or life history. It tells the story of Hijime's re-newed infatuation with the long-lost friend of his youth (after 25 years, she turns up at 37 yrs old), and the resulting marital/domestic dilemma. The narrative records the main events of his life, but the focal point is the reunion. The rest is merely synopsis. More importantly, the synopsis really only concerns the events of his love-life.(Whatever else we learn is rendered as ancillary to the tale.) That's why I say it is about a dilemma, really, but not about his life in toto.

Murakami, a Japanese writer, writes in a style that is almost eerily non-Japanese. It strikes me as faux-western. The idiom is almost entirely that of pop culture, with heavy doses of American boilerplate or pulp fiction. One begins to think the protaagonist is trying to hard to see his own life and experience through the eyes of Humphrey Bogart.* I have learned that Murakami himself encourages translators to indulge a type of 'adaptation' of his sense, rather than a literal translation of his words. Be warned: if you're like me, you won't find this rendition especially gripping.

The characters in S/W are sketchily drawn. They tend to be epitomes of types. Shimamoto is drop-dead gorgeous (whatever that means to you), and Izumi is so life-less as to seem a mere Imago of dead-man-walking. A few characters are given slightly more plausible personalities. In the end, one can't help but feel that the presentation of a possible real life experience is not what Haruki was after. These people don't and couldn't exist, but their conflicts, trials and tribulations might.

The air of mystery does seem gratuitous, but I think it is also (or possibly) thematic. This novel - I don't know yet about his other, later works - is early PoMo/Existentialist. 'Reality is all in our minds, what we decide to make it, etc. Hence, the stranger with a warning and a message, neither of which turns out to be pertinent to the plot. Sometimes this same sense of the strange is intriguing. In John Banville's The Sea events are mysterious and almost inexplicable, until we see what JB is up to. (In The Sea, I think Banville was writing his response to Samuel Beckett's trilogy. The mysterious figure in the yellow vest from Malone Dies shows up at the seaside hotel in Banville's novel with a similarly obscure history and function!) Perhaps there is also such a key to Murakami's (in)significant mysteries. I'll withhold final judgment . . . but I am inclined to think not!

It (S/W) is short, clear in its plotlines, and it is about a significant issue: the dilemma of commitments; do we commit to the actual here and now, or to themere possibilities of the future ?; to the actual and admittedly imperfect, or to the merely possible and possibly perfect? It is thoughtful, and it is pretty thorough --though in what regards I will leave you to decide. It is probably a good place to begin reading Murakami. (I'll let you know --or you can tell me!)

Off to the library for another one of his (later) works.

P.S. Having just finished Norwegian Wood I found it very amusing that a character in that book actually says to the protagonist, 'I like the way you talk. You sound like Humphrey Bogart, or someone like him. Did anyone ever tell you this?' Well, I guess I did!
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Last edited by kjml; 1st Mar 2014 at 9:06.
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