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.”
Murakami Haruki (Japanese: 村上 春樹) is a popular contemporary Japanese writer and translator. His work has been described as 'easily accessible, yet profoundly complex'. He can be located on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/harukimuraka...
Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western music and literature. He grew up reading a range of works by American writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences.
Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko. His first job was at a record store, which is where one of his main characters, Toru Watanabe in Norwegian Wood, works. Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened the coffeehouse 'Peter Cat' which was a jazz bar in the evening in Kokubunji, Tokyo with his wife.
Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music, such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: The Thieving Magpie (after Rossini's opera), Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird), and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute). Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance (after The Dells' song, although it is widely thought it was titled after the Beach Boys tune), Norwegian Wood (after The Beatles' song) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole).