RECENT READS #16 : HELLO, JAPAN!


IQ84 – Haruki Murakami

My first Murakami; Tony’s 2011 Christmas gift to me.
The book was so heavy, I had to sit with a cushion on my lap and prop it up on the cushion, rather than try to hold it.  900 +something pages. Its two days since I finished reading & am still trying to digest it, come to terms with what I read. And I can’t bring myself to start a new, lighter book either. My head feels overfull, even though I’m no longer thinking of the Murakami novel.

The Novel defies classification. Yes, it’s a love story – Tengo and Aomame (female assassin with a name of ‘ green pea’ {huh? I mean, what’s that all about, giving the main female character a comical name?} ); yes, its fantasy, if not SciFi – there’s a parallel world, characterised by two moons, a little greenish moon just to the side of the normal yellow moon, that’s the world of IQ84.  Apparently the Japanese word for 9 sounds like our letter Q. Verbal pun.

I found the book very Japanese:of course– how could it not be? Set in Japan, written by one of  Japan’s  foremost modern authors. Okay;  but what struck me was how extremely POLITE  the characters were to each other – none of the usual American style foul-mouth ‘mother-fuckers’ etc. in fact, no bad language at all. And there was a meticulousness to the detail: what the characters wore, the routes they followed; the food they prepared and cooked; what was in the fridge.  Somehow  I didn’t find it irritating, as I did in Stieg Larson’s l-o-n-g  novels.

But on the other hand, there was a lot of Western cultural influence. For instance, the use of the Janicek (obscure Czech composer) work Sinfonietta  as a recurring motif in the novel.

I deliberately didn’t read the review  articles I’d downloaded last year, until I’d finished the book.  Then I read them to try and help me make sense out of what I’d read .  They did help. Apparently his books always feature cats – this one had a whole sub-story about the town of the giant cats. And apparently Japanese purists get very cross with HM because of his love of American Jazz, and other Western influences.  This novel did have quite a number of Western cultural touchstones in it. Even I noticed this.

A reviewer talked about the ‘hypnotic effect’ of HK’s book, & I suppose it was hypnotic.  After all, despite the length, I kept reading, and wondering what was going to happen, so the book did engage my interest, but I’m still not too sure that I (a) got the plot or (b) really understood it.  & P.S. : what associations/parallels are we to draw with the original novel 1984 – do I really have to read this  again? Don’t want to! – and not going to!

The book was also disturbingly sexy, at least in book one;  and quite violent too.

There were wonderful characters : Shinake, the misshapen lawyer turned PI; the dowager and her bodyguard; the Leader of the Sakigake cult – fascinating, in fact.

One thing’s for sure: it WAS DIFFERENT, with bells on, and I’m willing to go back and try some more, but preferably  from the Library, IQ cost nearly R300, it’s a vast tome at a vast price. Am still not sure what my verdict is.  The review articles spoke of the lack of Nobel prize for HM, who is seen as a major literary figure.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I read the novel quite quickly. It was much shorter and simpler than IQ84.  But now I’m all Murakami’ed out.

Apparently this was the book that got HM noticed as a major league novelist in the West.  It’s his homage to the 60s, to the West and the Beatles in particular – the book title is a Beatles song.

So this novel is a Japanese version of the 60s and student life in Tokyo.  Again, I found it very Japanese ( the hero is forever catching trains – limited car ownership in Tokyo –  and working really, really hard)but I suspect that the Japanese readers might have felt the book to be way, way too full of Western influences.  As ever, one’s perceptions are dependent on their point of origin.

I found it to be a book about fantasies – male sexual fantasies (of course) but it also contains a huge Utopian fantasy (the remote rural D.I.Y. Mental clinic section).  And shades of Thoreau, the  protagonist Tori, living alone in a garden cottage –  in the Japanese urban context, a wild fantasy!

Another theme was First Love – also suicide and death – doomed pure first love – many of  the themes that Young Adult Fantasy/Gothic novels treat so superficially but which HM deals with so effectively and to such devastating effect.  Blurb said he is “a subtle novelist” and I agree.

Apparently Norwegian Wood is Murakami’s most read novel in Japan.  Must say I’m quite surprised that the-most-read-in-Japan is not his “Underground” which deals with the terrorist Saran attacks on the Metro.  However, I’m not strong enough to tackle that one yet!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “RECENT READS #16 : HELLO, JAPAN!

  1. I don’t know how you held out to finish such a looong book. The only way I would even try is if it was one I was really loving right from the beginning.

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    • Ja – well it was very long, but spurred on by all the rave reviews I’d read, I put on my hiking boots, got out my crampons, and read on and I’m glad I did – it was worth it.

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  2. Pingback: Book Review | ‘After Dark’ by Haruki Murakami « Wordly Obsessions

  3. HM has been one of my very favourite authors since I read his – also very lengthy – ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ about 10 years ago. I’m a huge fan of magic realism from authors like Gabriel Garcia Marques and Isabel Allende, and I feel like HM’s books have a similar, dreamy quality to them, but with a distinct Japanese slant. My personal favourites are ‘Wind Up Bird’, ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’ and ‘Dance Dance Dance’. These last two are a series. And as a btw – ‘Underground’ is not as dark and heavy as it sounds, it’s fascinating and direct, not ghoulish at all.

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    • Nice to hear from another HM fan. Thanks for your BTW note on ‘Underground” : I’ve shied away from trying this one, but after your comments, may give it a bash. Years ago I enjoyed GG Marquez – Isabel Allende, not so much. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with HM’s novels, haven’t read many. Happy reading!

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