The Murakami Effectby Vuyo Seripe / 07.03.2011
“If writing novels is like planting a forest then writing short stories is planting a garden. Both are about creating a complete landscape to treasure.”
I once doubted the Haruki Murakami “Magic” and “Genius”. Then I read Sputnik Sweetheart. It justified the hype and turned me on to Murakami’s powerful imagination. It’s beautiful and bizarre. He’s one of the few male writers I’ve read who slip convincingly into female characters. And so easily. His prose has a comfortable, intimate truthfulness. Lately I’ve been reading his 2005 short story collection Sleeping Woman. And damn it’s good.
Murakami’s work is deceptively simple. There’s a deft humility in the way he seems to give you time to think and reflect, expanding narrative space with well-observed everyday details. He gives you time to contemplate a moment when you felt, thought or did something similar to one of his stories. There’s a warm sense of shared intimacy – no doubt a big part of his early appeal in Japan where big cities can isolate people.
Take The Kidney Shaped Stone that Moves Everyday. It’s about a young man’s erotic education. His father’s harsh take on love makes him doubt himself. “I may be the type who manages to grab all the pointless things in life but lets the really important things slip away: whenever this thought crossed his mind – which was often – his heart would descend to a place devoid of light and warmth”. It reads like a minimalist movie, sensitive and detailed, without good looking actors and very simple dialogue. As horny and profound as Kundera.
Murakami assures us that nobody is perfect. Reading him lets his soothing cult voice slip into your head where it whispers: “It’s OK!” He has a soft insinuating power that goes beyond his work. It’s a kind of magic – The Murakami Effect.
He takes you into a quirkily idealised extra space within the familiar world where it’s perfectly normal to have flaws, where acceptance flows and things may just work out.
Both Murakami’s parents taught Japanese Literature in the tough “post-WW2 baby boom period”. American control and influence was everywhere in the 50s and 60s. Movies and music. Uncle Sam got under Murakami’s skin. He’s since been criticised by Japanese nationalists for the overt influence of Western culture on his work – from the short sentences of Hemingway to the music of the Beatles. But it’s the synthesis of East and West that keeps his work fresh and reflects the global dimensions of contemporary Asian societies.
I’m about to dive into his celebrated novel Norwegian Wood. It has a special appeal for me, published when I was born in 1987, and looks at love and sex amongst college students. It sold millions in Japan and confirmed his national standing as the pre-eminent writer of his generation.
What will a Murakami book mean to future readers – in 3010 say? Will his gentle themes of alienation and loneliness written in that slow burning, unfussy style still matter? Will the urban spiritual emptiness he illuminates finally have swallowed everything up? Will he provide an answer? Will he be worshipped as a prophet? I hope so.