My favourite author is Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami. There are some amazing writers, but when it comes down to it, I can’t envisage anyone ever supplanting him for me as a reader. So first and foremost, if you are unfamiliar with the man, and his work, please do yourself a favour and read some of his books. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do. I am convinced that no matter who you are, there is value for everyone in what he writes. He writes of the normal, the everyday, but also the incredible. He weaves the mundane and the isolated loneliness of contemporary living with little sparks of the incredible and surreal. For Murakami, around every corner, behind every closed door, just beyond your view are elements of the surreal and the magical.
Murakami walks a line that is at once unpretentious and simultaneously cultured; he writes compellingly, vitally and evocatively of the ordinary. He commands your interest with scenes that honestly should not be as memorable as they are. A prime example would be where the main character of one book cooks spaghetti while listening to classical music on FM radio. He injects such a grounded, detailed realism into each and every passage that you find yourself in slack jawed admiration; and wanting to cook spaghetti, along with Toru.
Murakami writes as a self-insert. You can feel the sincere, organic impact of his writing because pieces of Murakami himself inhabit the characters. The power present in this writing would not be possible without the genuine tethering that takes place between fiction and reality. It enhances and augments the ordinary, and strengthens and reinforces the surreal and more fantastic aspects of his worlds. There are cats, psychics, disappearances, mysteries and folklore. There are killers, detectives, wells and baseball bats. It is incredible.
One theme he consistently deals with is the ache of loneliness, of isolation in modern society. The ease with which one can feel isolated and alone while being surrounded by people, along with the burden this can be. Another is the influence of relationships, the role in which they play in shaping the identity of the men and women within them, and also the impact of their end. The absence of the one you love, that heartache, is an ever-present spectre in Murakami’s work. They fuel so much development, so much thought and emotion; losing someone, how you treat with your memories, and the possibility of reconnecting are all very present. Life for Murakami is melancholic, transitory and thoughtful. We focus on lives gone by, and they are all the more emotional because these experiences are simply now a point in time, long gone, that can only be visited through memory. The genius of Murakami is his ability to evoke this feeling, this reminiscent nostalgia for the past. It suffuses his work and it glows with it. It really ends up being a sort of emotional therapy. As characters ruminate on the past, teasing out details and finding answers to forgotten riddles, we as the reader, are engaged and encouraged to do the same.
One other constant would be his style, which is wholly unique. I read once that this style was produced through his early years. As a budding writer Murakami was dissatisfied with writing in Japanese. It hampered his thought process, so he elected to write long hand English instead, only then translating it back. It worked, because I cannot think of another writer with the same clarity of prose, or the same crystalline vision. There are similar writers, but none that I would say approach or exceed his very particular style, definitely nothing that resonates with me as a reader as Murakami does. There is an appropriate blurb on the jacket of one of his books, the Vintage edition, by Independent on Sunday that states ‘How does Murakami manage to make poetry while writing of contemporary life and emotions? I am weak-kneed with admiration’ this sums it up. His writing is so clear and unobstructed it flows with a beauty that is poetic.
While traits are shared throughout his work, no story is the same. Each book is distinct, vital and stands on its own as an incredible achievement. Murakami’s first real hit, and a great book to begin with, was Norwegian Wood released in 1987. This book was so successful in Japan that he ended up leaving the country for a number of years to escape the attention. From that point forward the release of a new Murakami novel became a very big deal. The appeal of his work is broad, and in no way insular. He writes of Japanese life in a way that transcends any linguistic or cultural barrier. In ways that render any potential obstructions irrelevant, ways that capture and mirror the pain, sadness and alienation in a rapidly shrinking and increasingly interconnected world.
So, if you’ve read this far you may be interested or open to recommendations on where to begin, which books to pick first. Norwegian Wood is a fantastic start, and one that many have used as a stepping-stone into the rest of his catalogue. My favourite, however, is The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. This is the book that started it all for me, the first I read and loved. I was a fan for life after finishing this. It was the perfect mix of melancholy, realism and surrealism. A masterpiece. There is no bad choice, though. Old and new, everything he has released is a solid place to begin. Your life will be richer for it.