Murakami Dram #02 – Sputnik Sweetheart

 

Oh, Winter sets in. The days, not just the evenings, are bitterly cold. For hours my fingertips have been icy  – more than one woman has complained of my cold hands, a “symptom of my gentle heart” – and even though the radiator is on behind my sofa I still need a thick sweater to keep off the chill.

It is 21:04 on a Monday, and I am cold inside.

Beside me is a glass of Château L’Estran Médoc – that’s a red. Red wine is supposed to be served at room temperature, but even though it’s been far from the fridge for the best part of a week, the glass is still cool to the touch. I feel obliged to warm it up in my palm like a snifter of brandy.

Trust me to pick a Murakami book that features neither whiskey nor jazz.

*

IMG_7712

Sputnik Sweetheart was one of the first Murakami novels I read. My edition is from 2002, in the bold translation by Philip Gabriel. It is rough around the edges – the book, not the novel, which is as crisp as a new banknote – its pages faded to sepia, bolstering the vivid black-and-whiteness of its cover. The erotic cover photo was taken by Nobuyoshi Araki, a prolific and borderline-pornographic artist from Tokyo. He photographed Bjӧrk. He shot Lady Gaga contorted in ropes. Sputnik Sweetheart is Haruki Murakami’s most sexually-charged novel.

*

The brief is “find the jazz in the book and listen, find the whiskey in the book and imbibe, read the words and splash a few of my own down.”

But in the 229 pages of sensuality and strangeness that is Sputnik Sweetheart, I find no mention of whiskey. There is, astonishingly for Murakami, not a single jazz number mentioned. Perhaps it is because it is a woman-driven narrative, and these are dreary man things, things that men can linger on and forget to. Sputnik is instead filled with classical and wine:

 

According to her father, her mother had chosen the name Sumire. She loved the Mozart song of the same name and had decided long before that if she had a daughter that would be her name.

 

Sumire is, arguably, the protagonist of the book. Young and creative, unable to string her thoughts into the coherent novel she hopes to write, this 22-year-old dreamer’s name means “violet”. Like the flower, she is a fragile, vulnerable, and – as the nameless male narrator who loves her points out – exquisite.

And the exquisite Sumire thinks she is strange for never feeling any romantic or sexual desire until she meets Miu, a woman 17 years her senior. Miu is married and has a cultured lifestyle funded by, it seems, the sourcing and trading of fine wine that she sells to her Japanese clientele.

No wonder there’s little whiskey but lots of vino in the book.

Sumire’s unconventional love story is told by “K”, who has loved her for a long time. He is a teacher (Couldn’t I have been!) whose dead-end affairs with married women seem to be a substitute for his unrequited affection and throbbing desire for sweet Sumire, who appears largely oblivious. She calls up K from a payphone in the middle of the night, waking him up, and he doesn’t object. He wants to hear her voice. He’s that pathetic – or that in love.

So that’s the theme, I thought when I re-read it. Something crunched a little within me.

*

So there’s no jazz this time, either – I picked a belter for my second entry in this series, didn’t I? – but there’s a touch of bossa nova and a sprinkle of swing:

 

  • I folded my hands behind my head and watched Sumire as she slowly yet eagerly devoured her cake. From the small speakers on the ceiling of the coffee shop Astrud Gilberto sang an old bossa nova song. “Take me to Aruanda,” she sang. I closed my eyes, and the clatter of the cups and saucers sounded like the roar of a far-off sea. Aruanda – what’s it like there? I wondered. (p.33-34)

 

  • “If I were a good-for-nothing lesbian [says Sumire to K, confused by her feelings for Miu] would you still be my friend?”

“Whether you’re a good-for nothing lesbian or not doesn’t matter [K replies]. Imagine The Greatest Hits of Bobby Darin minus ‘Mack the Knife’. That’s what my life would be like without you.”

“I’m not sure I follow your metaphor, but what you mean is you’d feel really lonely?”

“That’s about the size of it,” I said.

 

Swing would spoil the mood, I think. If Sputnik were a piece of music, it’s much more likely to be the springy Latin jive of Astrud’s bossa nova. This is the music I listen to as I unscrew the wine, wait for a glass to warm and breathe, and drink.

*

You’re supposed to describe the bouquet of a wine, aren’t you? Is that what I’m expected to do? I wanted whiskey. I’m not much of a wine drinker. The last person who made me drink wine lives half a country away and isn’t someone I particularly want to speak to again. She was the sort of person who is impressed by a wine connoisseur, who finds learned commentary on which-goes-with-what an admirable trait.

Good luck to her, I think, not enamored with my judgemental side.

I would describe the bouquet of the wine as “red”.

*

Happily, part of the novel is about writing. It’s not especially enlightening, though. We won’t get much insight into Murakami’s (near) masterful prose construction. But Sputnik is a fine example of tight writing: there is very little flab, and the bits that you think are flab turn out to be relevant later on, and their conspicuous irrelevance glows with hidden meaning. Those pieces aren’t irrelevant, you realise. You just haven’t understood their relevance yet.

Sumire clings onto her dream of being a novelist into her twenties (around the same time that I was wrapping up a BA in English and Writing, still hopeful myself). It’s only her mother’s financial support that allows her to continue to dream:

 

Sumire might very well have been thrown out – penniless, without the necessary social skills – into the wilderness of a somewhat humourless reality. The Earth, after all, doesn’t creak and groan its way around the sun just so human beings can have a good time and a bit of a laugh. (p.12)

 

How true, Mister Murakami. It’s something that I’ve had to remind myself of lately, wishing I’d forsaken a creative education for something more practical. The further away from that decision I get, the more I realise my true life and the alternate reality of success have diverged. In one’s twenties a creative personality is interesting, alluring even. In one’s thirties its lifestyle smacks of man-childishness, of miserable loserhood.

But wait, there’s more on writing! Sumire blames her writer’s block on having recently stopped smoking. Because she can’t smoke, she can’t write. But she admits that it’s an excuse:

 

“What really upsets me is I don’t have confidence any more in the act of writing itself. I read the stuff I wrote not long ago, and it’s boring. What could I have been thinking? It’s like looking across the room at some filthy socks tossed on the floor. I feel awful, realising all the time and energy I wasted.” (p.54)

[…]

“Sometimes I get so frightened, like everything I’ve done up till now is wrong … The world’s crawling with stupid, innocent girls, and I’m just one of them, self-consciously chasing after dreams that’ll never come true. I should shut the piano lid and come down off the stage. Before it’s too late.” (p.55)

 

How I know that feeling. I came close to giving up writing in 2013. After the girl now across the country, after the trip across the world that led nowhere, after something near rock-bottom, I decided that my work was shit and the future I dreamed of was hopeless. One or two very nice people encouraged me to keep going. I gave myself a fun little project to see if I could reignite my passion, and the result was The Gun of Our Maker, a Western, written almost entirely for me. It’s perhaps the favourite thing of mine that I’ve ever written, maybe even the best. But it’s a Western, so obviously it didn’t find a publisher. I’m happy with that.

Go back before the nowhere trip, before the office job that nearly shattered me, before the first thing I ever had published (Half Discovered Wings, Libros International, 2009), back to university when I didn’t need to think about the future. And there I met people who were the same as me for the first time in my life, and pretty much for the last time, too. Some of them were a mess, some of them were beautiful, some of them were beautiful messes, and one of them I loved.

I think of what we all wrote and talked about back then, over wine much like this Château L’Estran Médoc I’m working my way through (glass three forthcoming), and I remember times that were both the best and the worst. Far from the Dickensian sense, these were times that defined me and that I’ve moved so far away from that I can barely remember, and yet I’m still tied to them. I could almost recount more stories from those three years than I can in most of the 15 years I’ve lived since. I have journals full of them, most of which scream with pain. Like K and Sumire, the one I loved didn’t love me back, and maybe that’s why I love Sputnik Sweetheart.

*

It’s 22:04. The wine is heavy and dusty. The Médoc that Miu and Sumire drink together (p.51), long before Sumire’s ill-advised but inevitable attempt at seduction, is almost as old as I am, but Tesco doesn’t stock a 31-year-old Médoc, so I was obliged to settle for the oldest and most expensive Médoc that they did have, which was from 2010. Seven years. Where was I seven years ago? 2010, soon after the conclusion of my Master’s degree, in almost-doomed Writing. I’d found a job on the fifth floor of a Sheffield city centre building beside the City Hall, and when I looked out through the boss’ window during a private meeting I thought that I was moving up, that things were coming together.

How are the wine and music co-mingling? I’m not sure. Astrud on YouTube has a long autoplay life: she’s been going for an hour and bounces from mellow lounge jazz to acid jazz to full-blown Brazilian Firestarter. She’s become background music, a blur of sweet accented vocals and wind instruments, and the wine has made my tongue numb and fingers heavy.

*

I’m re-reading a scene in which Sumire calls K at about 3 in the morning. He wakes, he talks to her, they discuss things that are both meaningful and utterly meaningless.

 

I drew the curtain aside, and there was the moon floating in the sky like some pale, clever orphan. I knew that I wouldn’t get back to sleep […] I sat, reading, waiting for the dawn.

 

When I was at university my love would call me, and I’d be ecstatic to wake to the jolt of the phone. This would be between semesters, between years, in the long weeks between seeing her. Back then going home to my mother’s felt alien, temporary. It would, a few years later, become my home again. But at that time I’d wake to my love’s call and wonder where I was, and I’d look out of the open window, as we talked shit for two hours, across the fields and trees, hearing the distant swish of traffic, and have silly night-dreams.

*

Also during university was when I would get drunk. It wasn’t that often, and still isn’t. Those nights at clubs weren’t especially fun for me. I don’t dance. I’m the kid who stood at the edge of the room at school discos. When I dance, people laugh at how awkward I am and I’m obliged to acknowledge it and laugh with them. Drunk then, like drunk now, is having a slow body but a quick mind trapped inside, along with quick music on the outside that makes my body feel even slower.

Sluggish, I pour a touch more Médoc. It’s not an unpleasant feeling after a long few weeks. Up or down, back or forth, I don’t know where I’m going. I feel like a knot in the middle of a tangle of elastic bands stretched wide: things jingle me here, jangle me there, and I have the impression of being moved, and yet I’m still where I was, a knot in the middle going nowhere.

*

In the book, K gets letters from Sumire. She’s been on travels with Miu. K has no idea if they’re involved. It’s not clear if he’s jealous. When he slices open the envelope to remove her letter, I’m reminded of the letters my love would send me between Years One and Two, in reply to the ones I’d send her. Handwritten, a dumb anachronism even in 2003, more so now. I miss the tactile nature of them, the whorl of someone’s idiosyncratic handwriting. I write my journals by hand now. She features sometimes. Not often.

My lips are numb. Because my glass is small, I’m barely down to half a bottle. Work tomorrow. Mustn’t overdo it. Just allow the melding of music and tipple and wordplay.

Reading Sumire’s letters through K’s eyes, I feel how he goes about his small life before and after opening those envelopes. He loves her, but he is apart from her, and he just moves about his empty apartment, goes about his business: cooks a meal, goes out for a few hours, comes home. Meanwhile he thinks about what she’s written, tries to read between the lines.

On page 92, Miu calls K from Greece. She and Sumire have been staying at a sunny villa there, but something has happened. Miu can’t go into details; it’s too strange. The call has come in the middle of the night. Miu asks K to come, to the villa on the Greek island. He does; he goes right there.

One time, my love texted me in the middle of the night and I knew that she was upset. I didn’t know what the problem was. She was like me: up and down. Hair trigger, sometimes. Thinking too deeply, feeling to acutely. I got up in the middle of the night and went to her. Her dorms were miles away from mine, and I was a student so I couldn’t afford a taxi. I walked, completely misjudging the distance. For a long time. She tried to dissuade me, saying without saying that she had already pushed other people away that night. She didn’t want to do that with me, too. I went anyway. I arrived and found someone else there. Another concerned lover. She went into the kitchen and made us both tea. It took a long time. I didn’t say a word to the other lover. It made me cold from the inside out. It had brought me outside of myself, made me realise that there were real things beyond my fantasies. I don’t recall whether I finished the tea. I wrote a few bad poems about the experience.

Is this the power of Murakami’s writing: to poignantly make us feel something like unrequited love without ever using the phrase “unrequited love”? Or else to so deftly conjure an adolescent feeling from long ago that it’s just a story now?

Poor K. He goes to help Sumire, and arrives at the island to find that she’s disappeared. Rejected by Miu, she just up and disappeared in her pyjamas. No-one knows to where. Now they have both lost her, and possibly she has lost herself. The impression is that she has gone to some other place, somewhere she can exist apart from herself and the hurtful things that life has brought to her. She is a fragile violet, a proverbial “shrinking violet”. Injured by the things that most of us suffer in life, she steps away somehow. Her disappearance is an unsolved mystery.

 

So that’s how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, no matter how important the thing that’s stolen from us – that’s snatched right out of our hands – even if we are left completely changed people with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continue to play out our lives this way, in silence. We draw ever nearer to our allotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deeds of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immeasurable emptiness. (p.225)

 

Well, damn. Even Astrid is dampening the fast beat of her melodies against the slow shutting-down brought about by the wine:

 

Now he’s gone away
And I’m alone
With a memory of his last look
Vague and drawn and sad
I see it still
All the heartbreak in his last look

 

But the mixture hasn’t brought about a sadness, despite the drawn-out melancholy of the literature. I wanted to experiment with the combination, to see how the sound and sips of Murakami’s fictional reality accentuate, or in some way endorse, his written word. This time there is a disconnect. The wine is weighty and affecting, but probably because I’ve hardly eaten today. My mood before the wine has drawn the wine into it; the wine has created nothing. The music draws me out. Maybe if I’d sampled the classical music that peppers the book – Mozart, Brahms – I would have felt something more powerful than distant, blanched feelings of a nigh-immemorial heartbreak, inspired by what I found in the pages of the book.

Next time I’ll plumb a longer text, maybe – Kafka on the Shore beckons, my first Murakami, my window into his surreality. But I know that I’m drawn to somewhere else, somewhere south of the border, west of the sun.

—db

Advertisements

Murakami Dram #01 – ‘Men Without Women’

It’s 20:38 on a Tuesday evening. It gets dark early now, before five. I left the office in darkness and, today, in rain. My feet were wet by the time I got home; I stripped off my soggy socks and got changed. In my coat pocket was a roll of goat’s cheese, ripe for crackers. This I put in the fridge. I snapped the kettle on to warm myself up.

Now stretched out on the sofa in comfortable clothes, with Art Tatum’s grainy 1940s cheerful piano solos filling my small apartment, I twist the cap off a minibar-size bottle of Dewar’s White Label whiskey and pour its contents into a heavy-bottomed glass tumbler. The lights are turned down low.

It’s time for my first Murakami Dram.

FullSizeRender

In my last post I outlined the simple plan. Whilst re-reading Haruki Murakami’s surrealistic, melancholic, effortless prose, I will take my cues from his characters and listen to their jazz, drink their brands of whiskey in the way that they like it, and revisit some of my favourite passages from the novels.

These posts aren’t reviews, more gentle thought experiments. For my own amusement, and perhaps yours, I’ll experience the unique combination of dram, tune and written word provided my Murakami-san and see what spills out of that subtle change of consciousness. Who knows – perhaps I’ll enter a Murakami mindset and tap into his genius? Or maybe, more likely, I’ll just have a fun time.

In this first post I’m reading Murakami’s Onna no inai Otakotachi, or Men Without Women (Penguin Random House, 2017), in the translation by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen.

*

Men Without Women is Murakami’s latest, released earlier this year in fancy hardback. It is his second collection of short stories in translation, brought together under the theme of men ruminating on their relationships with women. Like any collection, some stories are better than others.

I’m sure that every novel by this understated but highly-rated Japanese author features his trademark mentions of jazz, whiskey and women. The motifs are so common that his global fans, especially his Japanese followers (unsurprisingly middle-aged men) frequently gather to drink a few measures to some soulful tunes and discuss his work. No doubt they were gutted that he was overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Literature again this year, as was I.

Let’s start with the jazz. As expected there were a few mentions in “Men Without Women”. In the story “Drive my Car”, protagonist Kafuku sips a “single malt whiskey in the booth at the bar” more than once, though there are no brands mentioned. In the story “Kino”, a visitor to Kino’s jazz bar places an order:

 

He raised his hand an inch or two to motion Kino over, and ordered a whiskey. “Which brand?” Kino asked, but the man said he had no preference.

“Just an ordinary sort of Scotch. A double. Add an equal amount of water and a little bit of ice, if you would.”

An ordinary sort of Scotch? Kino poured some White Label into a glass, added the same amount of water, chipped off ice with an ice pick, and added two small, nicely formed ice cubes. The man took a sip, scrutinized the glass, and narrowed his eyes. “This will do fine.”

 

It turns out that there is more than one brand of “White Label.” My supermarket offered a large bottle of Dewar’s White Label Scotch, but I ended up ordering a teeny-sized double measure from Amazon instead. It’s been sitting on my kitchen counter for a couple of weeks, as life threw its usual mixture of best and worst at me.

Next, the jazz.

There’s got to be a mention of jazz in there somewhere. I scoured the book a second time after the enjoyable first reading and was surprised to confirm that it really was 153 pages before there was any mention. Only the story “Kino” mentions music, which isn’t shocking considering it’s about the owner of a bar:

  • ‘Like dry ground welcoming the rain, he let the solitude, silence, and loneliness soak in. He listened to a lot of Art Tatum solo piano pieces. Somehow they seemed to fit his mood.’ (“Kino”, p.153)
  • ‘As always, Kamita was at the farthest stool down the counter, sipping a White Label and water and reading. The two men were seated at a table, drinking a bottle of Haut-Medoc […] The two men smoked a lot, though, which for Kino, who hated cigarette smoke, made them less welcome. With little else to do, Kino sat on a stool and listened to the Coleman Hawkins LP with the track “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” He found the bass solo by Major Holley amazing.’ (“Kino”, p.154-155)
  • ‘That night, though, the woman came to the bar alone. There were no other customers. It had been raining for a long time, and when she opened the door cool night air crept into the bar, carrying with it the scent of rain. She sat at the bar, ordered a brandy, and asked Kino to play some Billie Holiday. “Something really old, if you could.” Kino put a Columbia record on the turntable, one with the track “Georgia on My Mind.” The two of them listened silently. “Could you play the other side, too?” she asked, when it ended, and he did as she requested. She slowly worked her way through three brandies, listening to a few more records – Erroll Garner’s “Moon-glow,” Buddy DeFranco’s “I can’t Get Started.” […] She just sat there, listening to the music, lost in thought, sipping her brandy.’ (“Kino”, p.162)
  • ‘All he wished for was some music. Teddy Wilson, Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton – sometimes he longer desperately to listen to their old-time jazz, with its steady, dependable technique and its straightforward chords. He wanted to feel the pure joy they had in performing, their wonderful optimism. That was the kind of music Kino sought, music that no longer existed. But his record collection was far away.’ (“Kino”, p.178)

 

It takes me a while to write up the mentions above. I’ve yet to take my first sip of White Label, with an equal measure of water, plus ice. The cubes aren’t “perfectly formed”, more like shallow oblongs, so I’ve thrown in three instead of two. The idea behind ice in whiskey is to soften its harsh burn, should it be that kind of tipple – so too with water. Perhaps both water and ice is redundant, but this is how the strange visitor to Kino’s bar, Kamita, drinks it, and so this is how I will.

It’s only fitting that I re-read the story “Kino”, since it’s the main source of both the whiskey and the jazz. It’s a story of a man who loses his wife, coolly shrugging off the pain of her infidelity, and opens a bar that soon becomes successful. In typical Murakami style, the story takes strange dreamlike turns, featuring an aloof and wounded young lady, smouldering with sexuality and sadness; a procession of snakes; and a force of darkness that soon traps Kino in a place so lonely and isolated that he’s forced to confront his situation as a man without a woman.

As I open the book for the third time, my Art Tatum piano solos have tinkled out. I uncovered a ten minute version of Coleman Hawkins’ “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” on YouTube. It’s riotous, almost disrespectful of the original tune (his take on a slave song from the 1800s, based on the biblical story of the Battle of Jericho, in which Joshua led the Israelites against Canaan (Wikipedia tells me this is Joshua 6:15-21) under the auspices of God. This version is instrumental (not counting the fuzzy, indecipherable scat), lacking the punch of the Hugh Laurie cover I’ve been listening to for the last six years. It’s fun, and reasonably fitting for the story’s opening pages. I let YouTube fetch a few more jazzy Hawkins numbers to carry me through to the second act.

The watered down White Label is very pleasant. It’s smooth going down, leaving only an after-sensation of something having scraped my pharynx. The coolness of the ice makes it feel light. The jazz puts me in a pleasant mood; my blues have long floated away, and a candle is burning down, and I’m conscious of the subtle scrape of the pages as I turn them in my (slightly overpriced but pretty) hardback volume.

After all the prep for this post, by the time that I get a few pages into the story – the part where Kino catches his wife having an affair with best friend and subsequently quits his job, soon to open his bar – the whiskey has given me a pleasant buzz. I’m enjoying the music. There is only a trace of the ache behind my eyes that my day job gives me. And I’m relaxed.

Kino’s problems make me think about how many others suffer such cruel, but common, fates. No blame is ascribed to either Kino or his wife. My stance on cheating is that it is hardly ever acceptable. Forgivable, eventually, as most things are. I’m lucky enough to have only been cheated on one time (as far as I know). Like Kino, I walked away without feeling much of a sting. Also like Kino, I carried it with me without realising, and it’s affected by relationships since, not just with women but with friends and family. Everyone cheats, it seems. No-one seems to be faithful in the way that I have been.

Time for a deeper draught of the old White Label, I think.

When Kino tells his aunt that he’d like to rent her space (to convert into a bar) and admits that he and his wife will soon be divorcing, she is silent for a while. Then she offers him a discounted rate. Did she instinctively sense that he was hurt? Was she empathising, or sympathising? Just how many people have suffered as the result of people being shitty to one another, anyway?

YouTube has morphed away from My Hawkins and into something else. I summon Billie Holiday from amongst a thousand other versions of “Georgia on My Mind”. Is she singing about the place, or a person? The mind is exceptional for keeping someone just under the surface, all day every day, until the hurt heals over. I choose to believe that the brain is wonderful for finding a way to eventually heal from the pain, rather than finding a way to dwell on it.

 

He wasn’t sure why, but he felt no anger or bitterness toward his wife, or the colleague she was sleeping with. The betrayal had been a shock, for sure, but, as time passed, he began to feel as if it couldn’t have been helped, as if this has been his fate all along […] He couldn’t make anyone else happy, and, of course, couldn’t make himself happy. Happiness? He wasn’t even sure what that meant.

 

Surprisingly, the music is keeping me chipper. Billie Holiday performed the blues in the way that made them popular: cheerfully. A release from the weight that melancholy brings, by unlocking it with word and voice, but then carrying it away on melodies that bring lightness and cheer.

 

Love me or leave me or let me be lonely.
You won’t believe me, I love you only.
I’d rather be lonely than happy with somebody else.

—Billie Holiday, Love Me or Leave Me

 

In Kino, a regular customer – a soulful woman with an abusive partner – listens to Billie and Erroll and Buddy and then shows Kino the scars of her past. She has “something special about her, something that stood out”. In a particularly so-called male-fantasy way, the sultry woman takes control of the situation, then leaves Kino alone in his bed at some point in the night. He surveys his own wounds – scratches, bites, an aching penis. Even fantasy encounters hurt, apparently. But not as much as cigarette burns.

Fittingly, Billie begins to sing “Blue Moon” – You saw me standing alone / without a dream in my heart / without a love of my own.

I prefer the Elvis version, appropriation be damned.

By the time I reach the halfway point of the story, when Kino’s wife visits soon after their divorce is finalised to apologise for her infidelity, I have a touch of headache at the front of my skull. There is still a little whiskey left, soon to be supplemented by a cheaper but more meaningful 12-year-old Glenlivet I’ve been keeping as a celebration of finally owning my own place. I turn the music down a touch rather than switching to tea just yet. There is still a lot of story to go.

Why doesn’t Kino give his cheating ex-wife a piece of his mind? “You’ve apologized, and I’ve accepted your apology. No need to worry about it anymore,” he says to her. How bland of him.

An ex of mine likes the idea of this little Murakami project. She hates whiskey and doesn’t like jazz, but she’d like to join in. I tell her, hazily, that she’s not allowed – didn’t she read the title of the book? This one is for Men Without Women. We’d had our chance. But maybe for the next book I’ll do this with a sparring partner.

 

“Maybe I don’t have the right to say this,” this woman – his former wife – said, “but I think it’d be good for you to forget about what happened and find someone new.”

“Maybe,” Kino said.

“I know there must be a woman out there who’s right for you. It shouldn’t be that hard to find her. I wasn’t able to be that person for you, and I did a terrible thing. I feel awful about it. But there was something wrong between us from the start, as if we’d done the buttons up wrong…”

 

When Kino is forced to go into hiding following some strange occurrences, he is shocked almost to paralysis by a knocking on his hotel room’s door. He knows who is knocking, but he can’t answer. He sees a monstrous shape crawling near his window. Something he should face, but can’t. It’s his hurt that he should have acknowledged years ago, his living pain. By denying it then, he has a reptilian coldness within him now.

What is it about Murakami that allows him to tap into simple hidden truths? Is he a man without a woman? His characters so often share his interests – jazz, whiskey, running, reading and writing – that it wouldn’t be wrong to call him a partly-autobiographical writer. Has he also suffered loneliness, despair, and hurt? Is this why he can write a book about man’s specific brand of aloneness? Like Kino, is he facing the pain in his own heart head on, by writing this story?

The glass is empty, the candle is burning down. It is 22:39.

—db

Introducing: The Murakami Experience

Haruki Murakami STP editing

Reading has always been my greatest solace, and my most solaceful reads have been from Haruki Murakami.

I read Kafka on the Shore soon after its publication in 2002, during my university years, and soon devoured his entire back catalogue and have snapped up every one of his novels since.

Known for his elegant prose and surrealist narratives, Murakami always reminds me that there is beauty in the mundane, and that it’s normal to feel pain and confusion.

Recently overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Literature again, this year in favour of lesser-but-still-OK Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro, Murakami’s disappointed fans have been remorseful in typical style, with whiskey and jazz, both hallmarks of Murakami’s stories (along with lonesome male protagonists, quietly sad women, and cats).

I took great pleasure in reading his latest book, the collection of short stories Men Without Women. Inspired to revisit his previous works, I’ve also decided to embark on fun project that I’ll share with my dear readers between more useful posts on editing and writing.

Whenever I encounter mentions of a specific whiskey or jazz piece as I read a Murakami novel, I’ll spend a relaxed evening listening to that very piece and sipping that very dram whilst reading a favourite chapter or two, and then writing about the experience that comes from that unique combination of Murakamiist things. Perhaps I’ll get sucked into a dadaist Murakami mindspace, or find myself able to talk to cats…? Or maybe I’ll just enjoy myself.

Join me in a week or two for my first Murakami Dram – reading Men Without Women.

—db