Haruki Murakami

Book Review of Killing Commendatore

killing commendatoreI’ve seen reviews describe Haruki Murakami’s latest opus as ‘rambling’, and I would have to agree.  Killing Commendatore is a slow-paced and lengthy odyssey into a traditionally mysterious and unresolved Murakami wonderland.  This time, I struggled to keep my eyes open for long sections in the early and middle sections of the book. But this is just something you have to accept about a Murakami novel – he spends painstaking time creating both the ordinary and the extraordinary worlds his characters inhabit.  But I’d suggest this is one for the fans only – his earlier works are a little punchier.

Isolation is a key theme of many of Murakami’s novels, and the unnamed protagonist here is a portrait painter unceremoniously rejected by his wife.  Seeking refuge and solitude, he ends up living in the remote mountains of Odawarra, in the home of a once famous painter, Tomohiko Amada.  There he uncovers a painting that was never made public.  It depicts a Japanese portrayal of a murder in Don Giovanni (opera being another key element in many of Murakami’s works).  The discovery of the painting sets off a chain of unusual events that are never really brought completely into the light.  he befriends a rich stranger , who encourages him to paint the portrait of a young girl – a girl he believes may be his daughter.  Alongside this, a mysterious bell chiming in the middle of the night leads him to a tomb and a mysterious little figure, an ‘Idea’ personified in the form of the Commendatore of the picture.

While the painter is inspired anew and begins several new works, yet each disturbs him somehow.  He senses he is being drawn into a mystery that ties together Amada’s piece, Amada himself and the young girl he befriends. Eventually he must quest to save her when she disappears from the world to a place only he can enter.

The painter likes to keep many of his portraits unfinished – a reflection of Murakami’s own desire not to tie up the ends of his narrative neatly. Once again this is a lyrical, strange and beautiful novel, but one that may have been more satisfying.


Book Review of Men Without Women

men without womenAfter a hectic week, it was beautiful to spend a few quiet moment each night with the prose of Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite authors.  Short stories is such a fitting way to experience his odd stories of longing and love.

All of these stories explore – oddly enough – Men Without Women.  Some have loved and lost, others have chosen solitude. Some wonder about what the future brings and one or two are even hopeful.  But all have the emotional depth and clear, crisp lyricism readers have come to expect.  A standout for me was ‘Gregor Samsa in Love’ which imagines the famous character from Kafka reawakening in his old human body which feels soft, alien and vulnerable.  ‘Kino’ touches on the supernatural world that often runs through Murakami’s writing. ‘Scheherezade’ explores the power of storytelling and the capacity of words to create something like love.

Another refined and masterful collection by someone who feels full of quiet but real passion.  This is how I would write if I could.

Book Review of White Apples

carroll applesSome books are a door opening. Others are a door closing. I don’t really know which this is yet – but I don’t suppose it matters.  It’s a door.

White Apples was a book recommended by someone with clearly exquisite taste in literature. It is a beautiful Murakami-Esque journey into and beyond death.

Vincent Ettrich, a charming womaniser, was rescued from beyond the veil by his true love – a woman who has left him many times. Why? Because she is carrying his child. And this is no ordinary child – but one who is destined to save the world. But in order to do this, he needs his father to teach him what he learned in purgatory.

Magnificent, gruesome and glorious, this is a book about destiny and how we can choose it. The characters and – strangely – many of their situations felt so familiar to me. It’s been a long time since I have related to something this much – which sounds just about as odd as it was. Hard to put down.

Book Review of Murakami’s Wind/Pinball

tumblr_nsidhfBxhH1rxrxxxo1_1280Haruki Murakami’s publishing firm is no doubt trying to capitalise on the Japanese author’s incredible success in the English speaking world.  Here, they have taken two of his unpublished novellas from the very beginning of his writing career, and bundled them together in a special edition for fans.  And while I am not complaining – Murakami is a genius – this really is probably for fans only.

Of the two stories, Wind (or Hear the Wind Sing) is the superior.  It focuses on themes of isolation and alienation, exploring the relationship between our unnamed narrator and a women with four fingers on one hand who he continues to run into.  His typical beauty and strangeness runs through the gentle narrative.

Pinball is far more unusual,  where another – or possibly the same – unnamed narrator discusses his relationship with a pair of twins who turn up and move in with him one day, and his fascination with a particular pinball machine.

Through both narratives intersperses events from the life of The Rat, a staple in a few Murakami novels.

Definitely not his best work, although Wind is vintage Murakami and a beautiful read.


Book Review of The Strange Library

w527705A young student walks into the library just before closing, with questions about the taxation system of the Ottoman Empire.  He encounters a strange librarian who tells him he will be unable to leave the library until he memorises the contents of three old books on the subject.  Once imprisoned, he meets a man dressed like a sheep and a transparent mute girl of incredible beauty. Worried about his mother and his bird at home, the boy joins with the girl and the sheep man and together they plot their escape.

This short novella, aimed mainly at fans or young adults, has many connections to Murakami’s other work and its true to it on tone and style.  Most of us die-hard fans will be looking for more, but this is certainly a collector’s item, made even more beautiful by the illustrations.

A lovely jaunt into the world of Murakami.

Book Review of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

colourlessMurakami is best known for his magical realism, novels that transcend the everyday world and enter universes that only he can imagine.  Yet despite this, his writing speaks volumes about the plain old human condition – characters who are isolates and seek to reach out to those around them. In Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, like Norwegian Wood, he leaves behind the magical realism and focuses instead of the inner world of his main character.

Tsukuru Tazaki is a loner – but he wasn’t always.  He was once in a tightly-knit group of five, who grew up together in Nagoya.  Each member of the group, excluding Tsukuru, had a surname associated with a colour.  This made Tsukuru always feel a little on the outer, the colourless and dull member of the group.  One day, after he has left Nagoya to study in Tokyo, he finds that all his friends have abandoned him.  They never speak to him again. Sixteen years later,  he meets a woman he believes he could be close to. She encourages him to find out what happened all those years ago, and finally put his years of pilgrimage to rest.

Its a finely crafted novel of deep personal insight.  Many call Murakami the finest novelist of our time, and this is yet another exquisite example of his spare but purposeful prose.  I prefer the novels with a bit of magical realism, Kafka on the Shore being one of my favourites of all time, but this was still a hauntingly beautiful read.  My only sadness is that it will be years before we get another.


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

images-1Two types of people will be attracted to this text – fans of Murakami’s writing, or runners. Iread it for the first reason. Hoping for an insight into this unusual mind who is able to create such fantastical story lines.

While you are given an insight into Murakami’s as a writer – and also of him as a man of some insight – he never talks about where he gets his ideas.
Read only if you are into running.