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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Haruki Murakami's "1Q84" and "The New York Times" misread

Haruki Murakami is known for his vast imagination.  Most of the times, that very same imagination tends to get him in trouble with critics.  Murakami is one of those writers you have to follow (if you were lucky you would have followed him from the very start) and grow with him both in terms of style and content.  By my own admission to other people who inquire about him, I have to say that Murakami is not for everyone.  If you cannot suspend your disbelief (a crucial variable in order to enjoy fiction, especially literary fiction), then Murakami is not for you.  In addition, if you don't like feeling like you just walked right into a Salvador Dali painting, then Murakami is not for you.

Case in point: Kathryn Schulz.  I agree with Ms. Schulz that there are by far too many similes, particularly in the first chapter.  Yet, trying to problematize a Murakami simile can lead one down a disturbing road to nowhere.  One must simply read them and enjoy them for what they are artistically, rather than taking it word by word, defining them and then having to reverse your opinion back to the acceptance of literary techniques and device usage.  For example, Ms. Schulz asserts that “it sounded less like applause and more like an endless Martian sandstorm.” I’ve never heard a Martian sandstorm (and I presume Murakami hasn’t either, although one wonders) while then returning to her important statement that "yet the simile seems, in its strangeness, precisely right." My advice to newcomers to Murakami is as follows: if you cannot simply read Murakami without suspension of disbelief, then Murakami is not for you.  Although I don't doubt Ms. Schulz knows Murakami well enough to know it's just "Murakami being Murakami."  Of course, Ms. Schulz' account of her reading is not without merit--it is as closely a reading of a long, long novel can be, and insightful in content.  I wonder if Ms. Schulz has read the Lieutenant Mamiya account on "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" and whether she had the same inclination to dissect similes.  If she did, it must have been a long and painful process, to be sure.

I must list the overwhelming amount of similes that Murakami employs in order to give Ms. Schulz credit for pointing out that one alone.  Here are some of the most outrageous ones:

"With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents."

"'Decisiveness was key when I bought it,' the driver said, like a retired staff officer explaining a past military success."

"... all her knowledge of the piece came to her by reflex, like a flock of birds swooping through an open window."

"The wrinkles on the back of his neck moved like some kind of ancient creature."

"As she listened to the long recorded applause, it sounded less like applause and more like an endless Martian sandstorm."

"... she felt the surface of the road shake--or, rather, undulate--through her high heels, as if she were walking on the deck of an aircraft carrier on a stormy sea."

If you can't read any of this (in the short span of 10 pages) without having to look at them literally first, then, as I have said before, Murakami is not for you.  I am only a few chapters in and I suspect because I am a sucker for Murakami (and because my suspension of disbelief is so quick) that I am in for another masterful Murakami epic of distorted imagination and often crude account and descriptions of sexuality.  More to come.

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At 5:50 PM, Blogger JJ said...

Dear friend and follower of JJ Botta - Freelance Writer: As a result of increased writing commitments, I have recently merged this website into The Disconnected Writer (http://thedisconnectedwriter.blogspot.com/). I hope you will continue to follow my blog at this location. Of course, I will follow back. Thanks a million!

At 8:14 PM, Blogger JJ said...

I have not followed him from the start, but I do know the critics have slammed him. I wonder how much of the negativity is due to less-than-adequate translation.


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