Friday, May 25, 2007

New Haruki Murakami

Rhian tells me that she read a few middling reviews of the new Haruki Murakami, but I just finished reading it and I think it's terrific. It's my favorite thing of his since The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, in fact. Like that book, it's weird and full of great coincidences, intersections, and unexplained events; unlike that book, it's very simple: four people spend a strange night in and out of one another's company. There's an unplugged television displaying a mysterious room, a girl who has been asleep for months, an amateur jazz trombonist, a threatening phone call, a businessman who attacked a prostitute, and a room from which there is no exit. The narrative voice is wry and detatched, referring constantly to the point of view; yet the book is almost entirely dialogue. It's enigmatic, and you are never really informed of what the whole thing was about.

How does he get away with that? A student of mine suggests that it's his status as an "international" writer; he straddles two cultures without being really of either, and so can be himself alone, for better or worse. On one hand, you could say that this allows his mistakes to appear, to either Japanese or English readers, as merely a quirky product of the other culture; but on the other hand you could say that it frees Murakami to take risks.

Or maybe he's just having fun. I would be happy to watch him do this all day long. In perhaps my favorite scene, the trombonist finds a cell phone in a refrigerated case at a convenience store; it belongs to the prostitute who was earlier beaten by the businessman, who left it there. The phone rings; it's a gangster vowing violent reciprocation against the guy he thinks has the phone. The trombonist listens, and the phone feels "uncomfortably cold" in his hand. Not sure why I like that so much--it's the coldness of the refrigerated phone that makes it good. Elsewhere, the self-aware narrator is describing the sounds of the waking city, and says that if we strain our ears, "We might even be able to hear bread toasting."

Ultimately, though, what I like about this book is that it doesn't all fit together. I like books that don't fit together. That's one of things that bugs me about, say, Ian MacEwan--every novel ends in such a fitting way, loose ends tied up, metaphors locked tight (and in the most egregiously awful ending ever, that of Enduring Love, the charaters diagnosed, in an actual medical paper). This book is quiet and relaxed and in no hurry to go anywhere.

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