Haruki Murakami has been on the top shelf of my book collection for almost two years now (the top shelf is reserved for the ones I like the most, because alphabetical is just not cool). At that time my boyfriend and I had just began visiting each other in our home towns, a five hour train journey apart, since finishing university.
Naturally, with train journeys come books, and The Wind up Bird Chronicle by Murakami was the first book he bought me. I instantly really liked it and was really surprised by it at the same time. It was nothing like anything I’d read before; such stark presentations of life mixed with complete surrealism.
Murakami’s novels are never quite the same. Some are grounded in reality – normal people and their normal lives, telling their stories, and others are purely mystical, taking place in underground worlds where physics is defied, dreams blur with reality and the normal is rarely that. He has a strange fascination with wells too.
The Wind up Bird Chronicle begins as a seemingly realist novel. It tells the story of a man living in Japan, and a while after his cat goes missing, his wife leaves him. Everything he does seems very neat. The descriptions of his routines are so perfectly plain they become an art, like the satisfaction gained from taking your time over doing small, simple tasks. And then he goes a bit crazy and lowers himself into a dark well for a few days.
I’m not reviewing a particular book though, but hopefully bringing his writing to the attention of people who haven’t heard of him before.
The downside to foreign writers however, is that they need to be translated. Murakami has used two translators for his books, and I have found that I always seem to favour the books written by the same translator. This is an odd concept in itself. Can a preference like this mean that we are losing the original stylistic writing choices of the author himself, and are really reading books written by others? I would love to read something originally by him, but that would mean learning Japanese…
Speaking of which, Murakami has done more than introduce a new form of writing to me. He has made me really interested in Japan. The paragraphs in his books in which he describes the food his characters prepare and eat, the streets they walk down, the neighbourhoods they visit and the surroundings they live in have all inspired me to visit the country one day. It sounds like a futuristic utopia in some ways, although that could definitely be an interpretation of some of the characters’ lives too.
Murakami has written several novels and collections of short stories. Having read a few, I would say The Wind up Bird Chronicle is a really good one to start with. I think it’s his strongest novel and at the same time presents a flavour of all the features you will find in his other works. After that, if you find you like the mystical side of things, try out Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. If reality is more your thing, give Norweigan Wood a go. Whichever one you pick up, I really recommend you do!