It is not that the meaning cannot be explained. But there are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.
Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
In the beginning, he was my go-to recommendation when people asked for recommendations but over time I realized that I’m blindly recommending a writer to anyone who seemed to have similar reading choices and also to those who seemed to be adventurous enough.
I’m going to attempt to explain what I feel about a few things you can expect in a Murakami book. I’m using 1Q84 as the prime example as it’s my favourite book and it’s very much a typical Murakami.
Surely Murakami (or any other writer) is not for everyone but Murakami especially is not someone whose writing will be understood by everyone.
There will be open endings and for some who read (for example) 1Q84, the feeling of closure might feel very important after reading a trilogy worth 1400 pages. You would end up saying ‘Well, what was the point?’ My answer is pretty simple, most of Murakami’s books are about experiences. Something like not caring about the destination and enjoying the journey
I faced a similar problem with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Although it had an ending, I felt that Neil Gaiman used magic realism just to get away with the story in the end. It wasn’t Neil Gaiman’s writing or the story that didn’t connect, it was more to do with how I approached/experienced the book. I didn’t enjoy the journey so I was looking for at least an ending that would make the journey worth it.
I remember a passage in 1Q84 where Murakami goes on to say why cabbage should be kept in the fridge. What’s the point? There isn’t. Or is there? What is the point of anything anyway? Why does an author need to build a world when writing fantasy? Why does an author feel the need to tell us what colour shirt a character is wearing? These are all tools to give an atmospheric feeling.
With Murakami, it’s in the details. What may seem random and pointless actually will play an important part in building the mood of the story which brings me to his signature of food scenes.
Food and Flavor
People, in general, have curious habits and none come as close as food. I might forget a lot of details about my friends from college but I do remember a lot of their eating habits. Some of my friends would always want non-vegetarian, others couldn’t stand it. Some would only drink coffee, and some were partial to tea. These are things that define a lot of our relationship dynamics. We eat thrice a day (or at least two, I know a lot of us to skip breakfast ) So to me, if you tell me about someone’s eating habits, a lot can be deciphered from it. I’m not saying that I’ll be able to tell what type of a person they are but it helps in understanding a little bit more about them. It’s something they do multiple times a day, every single day of their life. It makes sense to use food as tools to define characters.
One thing that might skip a lot of readers is that there is almost a constant feeling of movement in Murakami’s books. There is a regular change in setting. Characters walk around a lot. They meet other characters on the go. They sit in a lot at cafes. This is something that keeps you engaged. These are the things that keep the reader thinking. They enrich the whole storytelling experience.
Recently, my wife and I moved to a new apartment. Soon after that, my sister had to go travelling so we brought Gatsby (our cat) home to take care of her. The whole mood of our place has changed. It’s like there’s more life (literally and figuratively) in our home now. The inclusion of cats in Murakami’s books is almost a given. And I feel that what this does is give additional life to the situation, adds another perspective. Is the cat absolutely necessary to the plot? You might think not. But it definitely sets up the mood and adds a dimension to the protagonist.
What’s on their minds?
I’ll try and wrap up with one of my favourite aspects of a Murakami novel. He goes deep down into the minds of the characters. Little thoughts in his protagonist’s minds are laid out over the course of his books. You’ll find a lot of middle-aged protagonists who are more or fewer loners. By the end you will feel like you know them inside out, you know their deepest fears and what will bring them happiness. This is very apparent in his much-acclaimed book, Norwegian Wood. So even though you might feel the plot isn’t fast enough or haphazard in nature, there will be a feeling of progress
when it comes to knowing his characters.
If this intrigues you, go for one of the following books:
1- A Wild Sheep Chase
2- Men Without Women (short stories)
3- Norwegian Wood.
This Opinion was published in the February 2020 print issue of The Mountain Ink.
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