Thursday, November 18, 2010

Appreciating Haruki Murakami

I am now on my fourth Haruki Murakami book (A Wild Sheep Chase), and it is just as hypnotically alluring as the others. Mundane things happen, and Murakami can spend several passages describing doing nothing very much except housework, while the cat (always a cat, often called Kipper) stretches beside him. Even so, every word fascinates. I'm not sure why. I think maybe it is because his choice of word is both accurate and slightly off-beat. The translation, by Alfred Birnbaum, must be incredibly skilful too, and the narration; for me Murakami and Rupert Degas are melded firmly together in my mind. In fact Degas impresses me so much I intend to find other books he has narrated, once I have finished Murakami's entire ouvre.

I am noticing themes now in Murakami's work: the legacy of the second world war and the occupation of China looms large; often the lady vanishes without explanation, and twice so far a business card is offered with very little on it. Life generally goes on at a languid pace. People talk directly and slightly weirdly and profess to having offbeat powers and skills. It is all kind of deadpan. Just now, in 'A Wild Sheep Chase', a woman has talked of killing off her perfect ears, and somehow, because I am in Murakami's land, I know exactly what she means. I also understand how she can then choose to turn them back on again, and in doing so transform herself into something so beautiful the whole world stops.

I have also almost finished my first book of Rudyard Kipling stories, and these are splendid too, but in an entirely different way.


Blogger Anne S said...

My favourite Murakami is Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World which was the first of his I read. I've read Wind Up Bird and Kafka on the Shore as well.

Apropos Kipling, I gather you are reading it on your Kindle. In my view that's the wonderful thing about Kindle, the rediscovery of old masters. I read Treasure Island recently on mine and was amazed and thrilled by the writing and the character descriptions.

I'm currently reading The Great Gatsby which I've always loved, but haven't read for many decades. It's a splendid novel and I've fallen in love with it all over again.

Fri Nov 19, 05:54:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I haven't read these, Anne! Ah, it's so great to find an author you really love and then find he is also very productive. Thank you for letting me know. I hope they are also on audio and Rupert Degas is also reading them - but if not I shall have to read them in the old-fashioned way.

Yes, I agree completely about Kindle. I too love the Great Gadsby. I read it for the first time just a few years ago and remember being overawed by it, really.

Fri Nov 19, 09:20:00 am  
Blogger D said...


You described in this post exactly what I feel when reading Haruki Murakami. It is difficult to understand how a writer who spends a great deal of paragraphs on spaghetti cooking and cat grooming can be as fascinating as this.
I believe is has something to do with a tension created between the ordinariness and the unexpected. When the reader makes himself comfortable in these "spaghetti cooking" moments, the narrative breaks in with an absolutely surprising element. It can be a woman whose hair colour changes from day to night or eels falling from the sky. This rhythm makes me perceive the novel as something I cannot live without - perhaps because it envelopes both the raw stuff of my life (spaghetti cooking) and the sheer fantasy (raining eels) we all lack in life itself.
A Portuguese translator of Murakami (Maria João Lourenço) said recently in an interview that his novels tap into a very ancient Japanese territory. So you have all the war anxieties but also something deep in their culture that is difficult to represent - the sense of duty, the praise of honour, the fear of rootlessness, etc. Perhaps Murakami finds solidified metaphors - the well, for instance - that convey obliquely all these networks of meanings and, in so doing, touches readers in a very exquisite way.
I feel very happy when a fellow reader shares this Murakami feeling because it seems so difficult to me describe the experience. So thank you for sharing yours and prompting me to write about mine too.

Fri Nov 19, 01:46:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Ooh thanks, Andréia! I think you're exactly right about the interplay of the mundane and the extraordinary.

And of course you can read it in two languages! I wonder now if there is there is one you prefer, and if the two translations have a different 'feel'.

And yes, what Lourenco has to say is fascinating too. He does manage to convey those themes in such a subtle way. This is all very interesting, and I too am very glad to be able to compare impressions.

Fri Nov 19, 05:17:00 pm  
Blogger D said...

Thanks for your reply, Clare.

My first Murakami experience was "Norwegian Wood". The deputy editor of my newspaper offered me a copy in Portuguese in 2004 - I am forever indebted to him. I became addicted and bought "Kafka on the Shore", "A Wild Sheep Chase", "Wind Up Bird" and "Sputnik Sweetheart". I have read them all in Portuguese.
I only started reading Murakami in English when I moved to UK in January 2008: "The Elephant Vanishes", "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" and "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running". I think that the voices I hear in my head while reading are the same regardless the language (Portuguese or English). Nevertheless, I must confess I do not intend to read Murakami again in Portuguese. The reasons are:

1) Although I am happy with the Portuguese translations, I can't help the feeling that something is irretrievably lost in successive translations. In Portugal, no Murakami book is translated directly from the Japanese. In that case, no matter how gifted translators are - and Maria João Lourenço definitely is -, I do prefer to keep it simple and go straight to Jay Rubin's translation.

2) Jay Rubin has a very close relationship with Murakami (who is a translator himself) and I want to believe that Rubin's translations are the most close to the "original" Murakami I will be ever able to read. This notion of mine contains a bit of prejudice - translating is always a creative work. Perhaps there is no such a thing as a rigorous translation, maybe there are only the good and the bad ones. Still, I stick with Rubin's. Human beings are complex creatures!

I want now, following your suggestion, to try an audio-book. I'll hopefully do that in 2011.

Fri Nov 19, 06:55:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Andréia: That is fascinating - I didn't know that about the translator. I didn't realise either that books were sometimes translated twice. I agree with you then, it can't help but be more distant never mind how wonderful the translator. I agree too about how it must be a creative process...I also think you are in an enviable position to be able to assess these things, because few people that I know are!

I do love it in audio, but I'm thinking now I might have to buy Murakami in paperform too. Sometimes I feel I need to pause over his words and think about them a little.

Sat Nov 20, 11:45:00 am  
Blogger D said...

It is interesting that you feel the need of having it in paperform too (and thus having the opportunity to pause over the words, weighing them).
I wonder now how the narrative is formed in your mind while you are listening to it. Do you mentally write the words in your head at the beginning of the audio-book? Is the characters' voice influenced by Rupert Degas'? (I mean, the way you would imagine the characters way of speaking to be?) And do you think this progressive embodiment of characters (i.e. the mental picture of imaginary people) is similar to your own creative process of making up characters? Being yourself a novelist, I imagine that you perceive these processes in a singular way. Sorry about asking too many questions!

Sat Nov 20, 01:36:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I find that the audiobook is good in that it forces me to hear every word so there is not so much skimming; but on the other hand there are times when I get distracted and have to go back a few minutes because something has caught my attention and I realise I haven't actually been listening properly. This is a big problem with audiobooks. In a real book you just glance back, but with an audiobook you have to scroll and guess when exactly you were distracted.

My conception of the characters' voices are certainly influenced by Degas. He does them so well - the teenage girl in the Wind Up Bird is high-pitched, nonchalant and utterly convincing. I can still hear her voice several books later. I have a character that I am writing about in my work and if I want her to speak, I just think of Degas' evocation of Murakami's and there she is! (Well, I think it's working, anyway).

Interesting questions, Andréia, it's fun to consider the influence of an audiobook. It does seem to me to be a different experience from reading the printed page.

Sat Nov 20, 03:02:00 pm  
Blogger D said...

Thanks for sharing this with us, Clare!

Sun Nov 21, 11:29:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

And thank you, Andréia!

Mon Nov 22, 07:45:00 am  

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