someone on tumblr asked what i thought about haruki murakami, so i figured i’d share my answer here as well because i have a lot of thoughts and this is my dedicated book blog!
i used to love murakami when i was in my early twenties, which is when i “discovered” him. i started with the wind-up bird chronicle and went through his backlist like water and read probably 90% of his novels over the course of two-three years — i was obsessed and couldn’t get enough.
i think that murakami has a way of writing loneliness that speaks to lonely souls. in my early-twenties, i found his work comforting, not necessarily because of narrative or character but because of the tone and mood he captures with his simple prose and surrealism (despite my dislike of surrealism) (and magic realism), and i think part of me could strongly relate to the solitude of [all] his main characters’ lives, their quiet repetition, their nostalgia even, their sense of aloneness in a strange world.
which is why i still think of murakami fondly despite having fallen out of love with his writing in recent years.
it does bother me how male-centric his novels are and how one-dimensional his women characters are, but, to be honest, my loss of love has mostly to do with how his novels all follow the same formula. you generally know what’s going to happen in a murakami novel — you’ll follow the male protagonist through his quiet, hum-drum life, and he’ll have one loud, brash friend, and he’ll encounter strange things and meet a girl and obsess over her ear, and he’ll be sort of changed but maybe not by the end of his journey. it’s a rudely reductive way of looking at his work, i acknowledge, but i find that to be the usual expected framework of murakami’s novels (with a few exceptions, of course). if murakami is anything, he’s totally consistent, and i think, at one point, mostly likely after 1q84 (which i did like and find interesting), i simply lost interest. i mean, colorless tsukuru is so beautifully and thoughtfully designed, and i do still love that opening passage, but, otherwise, it was just so, so bland.
maybe it says something that the murakami novels i still think of kindly are the ones that follow women — sputnik sweetheart* and after dark — as well as south of the border, west of the sun, which had one of murakami’s less one-dimensional women (i quite liked shimamoto). and 1q84 even, thought it could have been (should have been) edited down severely.
or that the novel i absolutely hated (hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world) had one of the most offensively one-dimensional women i’ve ever read, as well as your very typical murakami protagonist male who gets sucked into another world while on his quest.
or maybe none of this says anything at all, and i’m simply trying to over-analyze.
* i must also add that it has been years since i read sputnik sweetheart and have not gone back to it, especially since my second read of norwegian wood drastically diminished my initial love for that.
writing about murakami makes me think about influence and how writers are influenced by everything — the world around us, the music we listen to, the books we read, etcetera. my love for murakami may have shifted and diminished over the last few years, but i can’t deny that he was a big influence on me as a writer — like, i distinctly remember writing a piece (for the vignettes that have become marble bird bakery), and my friend/reader/editor commented on a passage, saying that it reminded her of murakami.
that’s a very blatant example of influence, and influence obviously does not only manifest itself in such ways. murakami specifically is one of the authors who made me think more about atmosphere, about mood and tone, about the mental spaces writing can put us in, and he might be one of the reasons i’m obsessed with what i call headspace (that has nothing to do with meditation).
(nell, my favorite band on this planet, is the principle reason i’m obsessed with headspace.)
i love writing that puts me in a different place — and, by writing, i mean writing as on the prose level, not narratively, not character-wise. murakami, in all the sterile plainness of his writing, has always put me on a different plane, in a world that’s oddly familiar but also off-kilter, just enough to be strange but not enough to be disconcerting. the reader in me responds very strongly, almost viscerally, to that kind of ability because the writer in me aspires to that kind of atmospheric force, and that’s where influence comes in and why i do still think of murakami fondly and respectfully because, despite all the problems of his male-centric plots and his one-dimensional women (and i fully recognize that these are big problems), he’s tapped into this voice that still entrances me and comforts me.
(i do realize that i’m taking the translation here at face value [maybe trusting the translator too much?], but this is what i meant when i wrote about reading korean literature — i don’t know much japanese [though this is a different topic; japanese is the language that frustrates me most not to know], so i simply accept the translation.)
would i read murakami’s next novel? maybe. probably. i haven’t read the recent releases of his first two novels in english, though — for years, murakami didn’t want them translated, so i’m not inclined to pick them up. i would also love to hear him read one day; i really, really hope i can.
(i read most of murakami when i was in my early twenties, which means pretty much all my murakami novels are still back at my parents’ in california. i do wish i had them all with me here! that would have made a great photo, especially because i love these vintage covers.)