My dear aunt recently insisted that I borrow a load of novels from her, so, from a family feast, I brought home a couple of novels by authors completely foreign to me. Among these were Haruki Murakami, a japanese author and translator who, unbeknownst to me, had his international breakthrough in 1994 when he published The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
In later years, I have had trouble finishing novels about which I have no prior knowledge or which I have not been looking forward to reading for a long time. I usually fail to finishing a novel because something else stirs my interest, be it another novel, a math subject, a computer science subject, a new Microsoft technology etc. Most strikingly, I recently gave up on The Gormenghast Trilogy because I decided I needed to read an introductory text on archaeology. While this flaw makes me a very consistent customer with Amazon (at any time, I usually have 10 items in my basket and 25 items on my Amazon Wish List), it also means that I approach novels of the aforementioned type with some apprehension (thus probably creating a vicious circle).
Hence, when I picked up Murakami’s After Dark, which had at that point sat untouched on my bedside table for a couple of weeks, it was with some trepidation. But, my reservations were quickly put to shame; reading After Dark was like a breath of fresh air:
The setting is Tokyo after darkness. The streets are deserted. A lone girl sits at a café reading a novel. Jazz records play in the background as she passes the night sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. At a nearby hotel, a chinese prostitute is assaulted by a customer who, after leaving the prostitute, returns to his night job as a computer programmer.
This may not seem like much of a plot, but the strength of the novel is the atmosphere which it conjures. I find it hard to put my finger on exactly why this atmosphere, one of melancholy and film noir, is so special, hence I can only encourage you to experience it for yourself. It is unlike anything else I have read.
I finished After Dark quickly and immediately did a bit of research and put The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on my wish list for Christmas. Just before Christmas I even found it on sale, had it wrapped and put it under the tree – from me to me, just to be sure :-).
Thus, I am now reading The Wind-Up Bird’s Chronicle and very much enjoying it. It has a sort of Kafkan feel to it, in that, just like Joseph K of The Trial, the main character of The Wind-Up Bird’s Chronicle seems to be the victim of causes, actions and rules of which he is mostly oblivious, but which are, at least partially, understood by the people that he meets.
I received Devils by Dostoevsky for Christmas, but I already own his collected works, so I will probably trade it for one or more novels by Murakami. Specifically, I have already set my sights on Norvegian Wood. In fact, I expect that Murakami will, in a few months, rank up there among my favourite authors along with Fyodor Dostoevsky and Umberto Eco.
So, the point is, if you haven’t experienced any of Haruki Murakami’s works, go treat yourself to a couple of his novels and a couple of days off :-).