"There's no such thing as a perfect piece of writing. Just as there's no such thing as perfect despair."
So begins the opening line to Haruki Murakami's first novella Hear The Wind Sing. Perfection, like beauty, I'd beg to argue, is in the eye of the beholder.
My obsession with Haruki Murakami started well over twenty years ago. On the way home from work, an intriguing book title caught my eye in a bookstore that no longer exists. The bookstore was "Max Ells" for anyone's memory that stretches that far back. The book was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I'd never read anything like it. I was in book love. And so began a long distance relationship that has survived the years.
This short debut contains two novellas Hear The Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. They were written way back in 1979 & 1980, and only recently published in English. I was intrigued from the prologue, where Haruki Murakami talks about how he was inspired to begin writing while attending a baseball game. He had an epiphany, and the idea struck him "I think I can write a novel." All hail the epiphany!
" 'Eat shit, you rich bastards!' the Rat shouted, glowering at me, with his hands resting on the bar."
Yes, you had me at hallo.
Both novellas feature the mysterious Rat, his friend (an unnamed protagonist), and their local watering hole "J's Bar".
The first story is lighter than fluffy clouds. The second has a darker brooding atmosphere, like a storm is looming.
It's interesting to note that Murakami's obsession with wells (including Martian ones) began so early in the piece. Those of you who are familiar with his writing will know what I'm talking about.
"I love wells. Whenever I come across one I toss in a pebble. Nothing is more soothing than hearing that small splash rise from the bottom of a deep well."
"There are wells, deep wells, dug in our hearts. Birds fly over them."
Tick also the checklist for:
* the ubiquitous bar
* the moody barman of few words
* references to music (particularly the Beatles)
* quirky friends
* memory & nostalgia
* wan girls with inexplicable problems
* young men pondering esoteric questions
* the restlessness versus inertia of everyday life
* existential ramblings
* narrators with no name.
All themes which Murakami expands on in greater depth in later novels.
"Outside it had turned pitch black. Not a monochromatic but a layered black, as if various black paints had been slapped on like butter."
I enjoyed this so much. To me, this is quintessential Murakami. Where you get a glimpse of the amazing works yet to come. For a starter, this has just the right amount of ingredients to tantalize the taste buds. As a fan who has read most of his later works, I can see from this book how it would lead to bigger and more ambitious creations and characters.
The writing already displays his very unique voice clearly.
"It was the same old thing over and over again. An endless déjà vu that got worse each time around."
"Sometimes things that happened the day before felt like they had occurred a year earlier; at other times last year's events seemed to have happened yesterday."
"Each day was a carbon copy of the last. You needed a bookmark to tell one from the other."
I understand completely. I love the musings of his mind. His thought patterns intrigue me. For a first novel, I reckon this is pretty darn impressive.
"People are awkward creatures. A lot more awkward than you seem to realize." Can't argue with that one. 4 Stars!
You could almost call Hear the Wind Sing a short story or a novella it is that short. It is the debut novel of Haruki Murakami.
It is set in Japan in the 1970’s and revolves around the life of a protagonist whose name we never find out. He is a university student on a break and the novel is predominantly about his character and his thoughts during this period of time. Much of the novel sees him and his friend, "Rat", drinking and chatting at J’s Bar. Rat is a writer and is my favourite character of the book. I wish he could have played a more prominent role.
The protagonist seems like a pretty normal 21-year-old student. One night he finds a girl, missing a finger on her left hand, drunk in the bathroom. He takes her home and stays the night to look after her. However, when the girl wakes in the morning she is naked, and I think Murakami does this to make you question the morals or scruples of the protagonist. The girl must think the same thing as she asks him why he removed her clothes. She is not too happy and is late for work leaving in a huff. The two meet again by accident in the record store where she works and they become friends.
The rest of the novel is the protagonist talking about his first three girlfriends and about an author named Derek Hartfield, who eventually went on to commit suicide.
Interestingly his third girlfriend committed suicide as well.
I have not read any of Murakami’s books yet, but if they have the same style of writing he employs with this short debut I will be happy. Murakami uses short, very short chapters, and tends to make leaps from one situation or encounter to another completely different one with regularity. I loved the style and it works well with this novel, cutting out any “fluff” and not wasting any words or time. The dialogue between characters is also written well. The problem is, and remember this is his debut, there is nothing particularly special about this debut. Very little happens and it has the feel of a short story. It is an enjoyable read though and does enough to get me interested in his other books. 3.5 Stars.
The second short novel opens with an unnamed protagonist again. He is pondering what his life was like ten years earlier. Remembering how he used to love to hear people’s stories.
The main narrative starts with the unnamed protagonist waking up to find two female twins in his bed. Guess what? They don’t have names either. We don’t know where they came from or why. They know next to nothing about the world, but I think after reading the first novel, this is par for the course. Murakami seems to excel in the enigmatic.
It is the spring of 1972 the protagonist and a friend start up a small translation company. Almost immediately their business is a roaring success and the money starts rolling in.
Chapter two sees the return of “The Rat”. I was delighted to find him returning as he was my favourite character in the first novel. Also returning is J’s bar and this is where we find Rat sitting and talking with the Chinese bartender who is simply known as “J”. For me the dialogue between these two characters is a highlight of the novel. There is just something “real” and gritty about their conversations, even though they are really about nothing at heart. Or are they?
The narrative will switch back and forth between the protagonist’s story and the Rat’s. Interestingly we learn of Rat’s past and why he left university from the protagonist’s side of the narrative. Rat is depressed, lonely, deep in a trough of melancholy. Subsiding on beer and smokes. Each day a replica of the one before it.
The protagonist remembers a pinball machine, that the Rat and he used to play in J’s bar. When it was taken from the bar, he tracked it down to an arcade until the arcade was replaced with a doughnut shop. One day he wakes, and he is obsessed with tracking down this pinball machine. He hears it calling to him.
Just like his debut novel, Murakami has a way of segueing seamlessly into an entirely different subject. An example,
“Like the Siberian penal camps for thought criminals they had back in Imperial Russia. Speaking of penal camps, I remember reading about one of them in a biography of Leon Trotsky. Can’t remember much, just the parts about the cockroaches and the reindeer. So let me tell you about the reindeer…”
Along with his beautiful poetic prose, I think this is a major strength of Murakami and this novel. The reader has no idea where they will be taken, what they will find out, sometimes in the very next paragraph.
His writing is also enigmatic and riddled with hidden meaning. When a character talks about how on Venus (yes, I did say Venus, one of the characters the protagonist talks to claims to be from Venus), there is no hatred, envy, or contempt, only overflowing love, is he describing an idyllic Earth, criticizing the state of our planet? With Murakami I am quickly finding that you can never be sure.
Then before you know it, Murakami is off talking about wells again. What is it with the wells?
“I love wells. Whenever I come across one I toss in a pebble. Nothing is more soothing than hearing that small splash rise from the bottom of a deep well.”
I’m pretty sure that the protagonist is giving voice to Murakami’s own feelings.
Murakami certainly has his own beautiful unique style of writing. How about this sentence,
“The undulating hills resembled a giant sleeping cat, curled up in a warm pool of time”.
I think that most of my enjoyment from these two short novels came from the sheer joy of reading sentences such as this.
I enjoyed this novel better than the debut and I can see myself becoming a Murakami fan. His style will not be for everybody though. 4 Stars!
What is the significance of the pinball machine? I think the protagonist answers this question best himself,
“Yeah. You know, hitting balls with flippers.”
“Of course I know. But why pinball?”
“Why? This world is rife with matters philosophy cannot explain.”
So with Nat's score of 4 and my total score of 4 for the combined novels, this gives us a very respectable 8/10.
I also want to thank Nat for introducing me to a wonderful author who I know will become a favourite of mine as well.