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Old 27th Dec 2010, 14:46   #71
gil
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Default Re: Haruki Murakami

Just finished After Dark, which I really enjoyed. It's a short read, and resembles a screenplay more than a book. You could make a satisfyingly mysterious art movie of this book. It would be the very best kind of art movie. Everyone would go to it. No-one would understand it.
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Old 15th Feb 2011, 0:20   #72
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Default Re: Haruki Murakami

Finally read Kafka on the Shore, despite being warned off by negative comments in this thread. It was typical Murakami - weird and not necessarily making sense. But I felt it was reasonably neatly resolved for a Murakami. And I enjoyed it.
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Old 6th Nov 2011, 10:47   #73
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Brilliant. I've just spent ages writing as carefully considered a review of this complicated, enchanting book* as I can muster, only to find I'd somehow been logged out at some point during my typing frenzy and lost the whole bloody lot! Will write it in Word and get back to you. Harrumph.

* The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
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Old 15th Nov 2011, 20:42   #74
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Hello everyone. Well, I've gone and read a book. I was dragged along, grumbling, to my local Barnes & Noble with my wife and girls, and suddenly I remembered that I used to read some of those there book things. So I tried to remember any authors I liked--it took a minute--and Murakami and Ishiguro eventually popped into my head. I bought Murakami's South of the Border, West of the Sun and Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, and I read the Murakami first.

I've read Kafka on the Shore, and I remember liking it but can't quite remember what it was about (if anything). There was a painting in there somewhere??? I started The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a few years ago, too, and I remember finding it enjoyable and difficult to pick up at the same time...and that probably describes my relationship with Murakami pretty well, now that I think about it.

I think it's the occasional air of forced mystery that never quite works for me. I can't remember specific examples from my previous two (or 1.75) Murakami reads, but odd and mysterious things often happen for no reason, with no contribution to the plot other than their own weirdness and artificial mysteriousness. That's what bothers me about Murakami...sometimes I feel like I'm reading a desperate attempt at a thriller written by a 12-year-old. On the other hand, odd and mysterious things happen all the time--I think that IS what I like about Murakami--but they usually contribute something to the plot, even if they don't make any sense.

The example I would pull out of this particular book [and forgive me, I'm not remembering names and don't have the book handy] would be the strange secret-agent-style man who prevents the narrator from speaking to the long-lost girl from his past, and who then threatens him and pays him off to leave her alone. Well, that ended up contributing absolutely nothing to the plot in the end. In fact, it only contributed another pointless mystery, when the envelope inexplicably disappears from a safe. Happily, I believe that was the only gratuitous, pointless, hollow mystery in this book, and that's one of the reasons I enjoyed it. It was short, it wasn't overflowing with bizarre nonsense just for the sake of it, it still had the typical occasional weirdo bits you'd expect from Murakami, and it was a well-executed character sketch, most of all.

It could just be that I saw a lot of myself in the protagonist (most of it not particularly nice, if you're wondering), but I thought Murakami did a good job of helping me to understand how his character felt: the sense of never quite belonging but never quite knowing where he might belong, eventually pretending that he didn't care but still feeling uneasy about it; the sense of not having what he wanted, sometimes refusing to chase what he wanted, then putting on a show of chasing other things instead, and finding he wasn't content with any of it; the general underlying feelings of numbness, withdrawal, almost separation from the world around him. I felt like I truly understood this character, in a fairly deep sense, and that made it interesting for me.

I think I also found him interesting because many people might struggle to feel any sympathy for him...I found myself thinking of the protagonist from The Catcher in the Rye, for example. While reading TCitR, I often found myself wanting to shout, "Oh yes, BOO-F***ING-HOO, you spoiled rich kid!" Murakami's protagonist had a good life, a devoted wife, happy and healthy children, a wealthy father-in-law who had funded a successful business for him...why should we feel any sympathy? Well, I don't know. I think I felt sympathy for him because everything he did came from the sense of unease and isolation inside of him...we can't fault people for their psychological make-up, can we? Actually, that's an awkward question, so don't answer that. I don't want to answer it myself. But I suppose I could see the inner pain, for lack of a less cliched way to say it, driving a lot of his glaring faults. I think such situations are sad for everyone involved, personally.

So, to me, this book was really just a character sketch devoted to examining that particular inner pain, or emptiness, or whatever you want to call it, and its effects on the protagonist and the people around him. Murakami doesn't really delve into how or why it originated; it's just there, and it is a very strong-willed thing that dictates everything about the man's life. I thought it was effective on that front. I've seen some commentators suggesting that this was just a book about a mid-life crisis, and I think that entirely misses the mark; we're not meant to be examining his actions at any point in time, but the psychological force behind his actions, which had been present from his childhood and which absolutely did not just show up in his middle age.

Finally, unlike The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I found this one to be a quick and easy read. I don't remember how to do the star-rating thingy, but four stars out of five from me.
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Old 14th Feb 2014, 16:54   #75
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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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Old 1st Mar 2014, 7:35   #76
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The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

This is Murakami’s 8th novel, published 15 years after his first in 1979. It came out after he had achieved great celebrity in his native Japan for the success of the slighter but arguably more enjoyable and also more conventional Norwegian Wood (1987) --and, apparently, long after his editor had died or absconded, either of overwork or possibly neglect. It is a novel from 1994-95, the years immediately prior to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, another book that put a definite strain on the patience and nerves of readers all over the English-speaking world. It is called a "post-modern" masterpiece (It has this also in common with Wallace’s 1996 novel.) Unfortunately, twice, intelligent men who just couldn’t reign in their own impulses to keep going - even when the road ahead had ceased to provide a place for them to go - wrote both these books. Regardless of the fact that the two vary in other, very important ways, as narratives, the results are, unfortunately, all too similar.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle seems aptly named at least: ‘chronicle’ being a term which brigs with it so little in the way of prior expectations. It is a novel of Toru Okada, aka “Mr. Wind-up Bird,” a 30 year-old, unemployed man-child to whom strange and unexpected things just keep happening. His wife disappears abruptly one day, shortly after the cat does the same, and strange people begin to invade his world and command his attention from every quarter, as he sits and wonders what to do about these losses. But it is not a story of the things Okada does. (If it were, it would barely make a decent short story.) I can list what he does very simply: he goes to the city center and sits on a bench, day after day, waiting for something to happen. (This in response to the disappearance of his wife.) Then, he goes down into an absent neighbor’s dry well to sit and wait for something to occur to him. (This he does in response to a dead soothsayer’s occult warning to ‘go deep down when things flow downward.’) If the protagonist were any more passive, the book might have been accurately titled “Mr. Wind-up Bird’s” Autopsy.

In the book there is mystery, albeit of the most basic kind. Things happen out of the blue, with no prior hints, reasons or warnings, but with plenty of portentous input from psychics and mysterious figures of dark visage and presumptive danger. There is also some real tenderness, mostly in the story – and especially in the letters – of May Kasahara, Okada’s precocious sixteen years-old neighbor who sees deeply into the adult world but can’t master the trick of properly addressing and mailing any of her alleged hundreds of letters. (And yet we are treated to examples of these letters just the same!) There is even a hint of pathos in the figures and history of Creta Kano, Toru’s emotional ally, and Kumiko Okada, the fugitive wife of the protagonist. And, perhaps best of all, there is poignancy in the historical, savage tale told by Lt. Mamiya, whose service in the Japanese Army in Manchuria before and during WWII is recounted at length and in depth –though for no obvious reason at all – in the book. These really are good reasons to read on; but there is just no answer to the question –why are these stories even in this novel?

As I think I said earlier, when he wants to write well, Murakami can write very well indeed. (The Lieutenant’s tale is worth the price of admission by itself, and would have made a great short story!) But, finally, Murakami wants rather to brood and so brood he does. When he does, he doesn’t write near so well. The characters are mostly cartoonish, or one-dimensional; the events are thoroughly fantastic and worse yet, they are too often both improbable and too coincidental at the same time. Murakami wrote this novel without a plan, but it seems he also wrote it without an adult audience in mind.*

It tells a lot about this novel, I think, that the subdivisions, Books I and II were published in Japan a whole year before Book III, its final segment and the one which is very nearly as long as the first two put together. (As Gil noted, the book was serialized, but a year intervened between the last installment of Book II and the first of Book III.) The publication/time difference shows as a style difference between the parts. Except that its contents still concern the same protagonist and, however tangentially, the same dilemma, Book III has the feel of an unfinished sequel, perhaps the notes or nachlass of a literary effort left behind after the author either quit or died without finishing the intended work.

It is not that there is no ending to the tale, but that the entirety of Book III seems appended, as if from a separate work originally not intended to belong, as an integral part, to the original book. Rather, it seems to be an afterthought, of sorts; an embellishment, like a coda, or a series of appendices, if you will. It takes this alien form in a variety of voices and from a variety of sources: now a letter from out of the blue (but at least not unprecedented), then a newspaper article from the gossip pages, then a mysterious computer file accessed by a most implausible coincidence, then again a whole bunch of letters which the “hero” apparently never got to see; all set out in different fonts, as if by this typographical oddity the parts are rendered integral, or at least more decisively 'post-modern.'

I can’t help but think that Book III should have been an actual sequel, a separate novel devoted, perhaps, to the perspective of the missing/lost Kumiko Okada. What we learn in Book III mainly belongs to her story anyway, insofar as what we learn in Book III belongs in this disjointed story at all. I suspect that Murakami couldn’t find a satisfying way to bring it all together, and so he stopped trying and appended his thoughts and digressions as though they were missives from another world and called it magical-realism.

The more I think about the novel as a whole, the less satisfactory do I find it as a work of art. I admit that the reading experience, and therefore the writing, was not thoroughly disappointing, in itself, after all. Murakami has skill; but he also has a compulsive steak that doesn’t allow him to leave out any thought or tangent that strikes him as even remotely possible. He follows every thread whether that thread is tangential or integral to the story or the theme. It seems he can’t help himself. (The English language edition was cut by some 30.000 words – two chapters - and it is still too long!) This is just what brings DFW’s Infinite Jest to mind. Wallace was another such compulsive – as was Don DeLillo in Underworld - and another such as desperately needed (and missed the benefit of) a good editor.

If you like Kafka’s unfinished novels, you may like The Wind-up Bird Chronicle as well, and for similar reasons. It will leave you with a quasi-philosophical mystery to ponder till the cows come home. But I think Kafka knew better what he was trying to say and how to go about saying it in form. Murakami seems to me to rely too heavily on the Po-Mo pretence that, since life is unpredictable and ultimately inscrutable, so also can or should be a novel about life. But life is only a series of randomly occurring events for people, like Toru Okada, who are themselves accidents just waiting to happen. At least Joseph K wanted and tried to solve his own mysteries.

* I am giving serious thought to the possibility that Haruki Murakami, all the blurbed acclamations of 'genius' notwithstanding, is really a Young Adults author whose works have been grabbed up and over-praised by some fairly gullible critics in the world of Adult literature. (Jack London comes to mind as a precedent.)
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Old 8th Mar 2015, 13:02   #77
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Default Re: Murakami

Quote:
Originally Posted by wildsheep View Post

When asked to recommend a Murakami to a first-time reader I usually suggest Norwegian Wood for girls and South Of The Border, West Of The Sun for blokes.
...well colour me girly because I have just rattled through Norwegian Wood in three sittings, had the weirdest out of body reading experience I can ever recall in the middle of it, and was in floods of tears at the end.
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Old 22nd Apr 2015, 19:27   #78
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Default Re: Haruki Murakami

And I'm apparently a boy - because I liked South of the Border a lot, read it twice, and Norwegian Wood... well, up to date I haven't found Murakami's book that I really dislike, but this one felt second league. Still, I might change my mind on rereading, because I like what I remember out of it, if that makes sense.
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