What I Talk About When I Talk About Murakami

When a writer in the year 1Q84 decides to go on A Wild Sheep Chase after the quake has happened, he wanders into the Norwegian Woods. Seeking the South of the Border, West of the Sun, he runs into Sputnik Sweetheart & Kafka on the Shore. After Dark has settled in, he narrates The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in the Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. The chronicle ends, and The Elephant Vanishes into the Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman finally wakes up, and breaks into a Dance Dance Dance, Absolutely On Music from the 1900s.

…Apologies for the bad puns. I sometimes go into this overdrive mode, and I can’t help myself. Moving on.

Haruki Murakami is a writer, who in his own words, is the type who writes stories on the kitchen table late into the night. Accordingly, his stories are dark and lonely, just like the dead of the night.

Broken minds, shattered souls

Murakami’s stories are character-centric, whose observations help build the world they live in. All the characters are taken right out of a Salvador Dali painting, with eccentricities beyond anything. The main character however, is always invariably a simple guy, often without a name. All the characters, in one way or another suffer from loneliness and alienation. Most are normal looking beings from the outside, but each of them has this little oddity, either physical or mental or both which separates them from the crowd.

As Kafka Tamura puts it in the novel Kafka on the Shore, an extremely complex machination for execution is always present around the characters of Murakami’s novels. Slowly, deliberately executing them, this device also acts as a detailed plan of the lives they lead, which, no matter how meticulously explained, is in the end a moot point. This metaphorical execution device and a sense of unspoken guilt are the major defining elements of Murakamian characters.

The End of the World

An artist's rendition of the end of the world.

The world in Murakami’s stories is surreal. Normal logic usually does not apply there. It’s a world where giant toad monsters from underground come out to battle a giant snake bent on causing massive earthquakes, where young women sleep without ever waking up, & a person is excluded from a group of his friends without any apparent explanation. Murakami weaves tales around the most impossible of scenarios, challenging the readers to accept these unrealities and find whatever traces of concrete truths lying in there. He even leaves a clue in Kafka on the Shore, by saying, “Everything’s a metaphor.” Everything, including the most bizarre of the events that transpire.

That record which is repeated

A music record.
Music, food and sex; these three are the ever-present aspects in Murakamian stories. From classical to 80s rock, almost every character in Murakami’s stories is an avid music lover. This use of music also helps setting the mood of the story, and even explains a lot of traits of characters.

All his main characters have at least basic culinary skills and a good palate. Murakami’s years running a jazz bar certainly helps in this portrayal of delicacies, adding a fine flavour to his work.

His use of sexual relationships to describe his characters is intriguing as well. They vary from providing deep insights into the philosophy of the likes of Hegel to showcase another dimension of suffering of the main character. Sex in Murakami’s books isn’t erotic. Rather, it helps in character development, sometimes in a bit grotesque way.

His stories many a times end on a dissonant note, his characters are outright crazy at times, and the liberties he take while creating his plot leaves heads scratching. Still, Murakami delivers a world where meanings beyond meanings can be discovered, where the innermost darkness of human mind lies bare.

Here’s an honest opinion: if you do not comprehend his works, chances are, you are a lucky person.

Just an opinion.

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Anurag Yadav

Move along now, nothing to see here.