Saturday, October 15, 2011

The new Murakami

After reading the absolutely dreadful After Dark, and before that the pretty awful Kafka on the Shore, I promised I wouldn't read any more Haruki Murakami. But I'm a recidivist, I admit it. His new novel, in three volumes, comes out this week and I'm itching to get at it. I'll have to wait, though, since I'm in the States at the moment and, even if it's published here at the same time, I don't think I want to carry it all the way back home with me. So why am I so interested?

Well, I absolutely adored A Wild Sheep Chase when I first read it. Admittedly, when I re-read it I wasn't so enamoured, but I'm happy to stick with my first emotional response to it. And Norwegian Wood was beautiful, heartbreaking. And when I first read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle I was gobsmacked. The second time I read it I still thought it was amazing. That's the benchmark. And that's why I was so hugely disappointed by Kafka on the Shore, which read like a nobody trying to write like Murakami. And After Dark, similarly, was like someone trying to re-write Norwegian Wood.

So can he do it again, or will he still be stuck in Murakami-pastiche-land, complete with cats and wells and an enigmatic girl/woman and temporal disturbances and Japanese recipes? The sheer scale of 1Q84 makes me hopeful that this will be something meaty.

There's an interview with him in the Guardian today. There are a couple of interesting points:

To Murakami, built like a little bull, [writing is] a question of strength. "It's physical. If you keep on writing for three years, every day, you should be strong. Of course you have to be strong mentally, also. But in the first place you have to be strong physically. That is a very important thing. Physically and mentally you have to be strong."

I think there's something in that. My writing tutor, Alex Keegan, has always forced on his students the mantra of write, write, write. Murakami wrote this 1000 page novel in 3 years. That's a slog. Most aspiring writers simply couldn't come close to it. It's hard work, writing. And Murakami goes on:

"Every day I go to my study and sit at my desk and put the computer on. At that moment, I have to open the door. It's a big, heavy door. You have to go into the Other Room. Metaphorically, of course. And you have to come back to this side of the room. And you have to shut the door. So it's literally physical strength to open and shut the door. So if I lose that strength, I cannot write a novel any more. I can write some short stories, but not a novel."

This is more than simply the hard graft of writing. This is about opening yourself up to what it is you want to write about, or what you need to write about. Going back to AK, he talks about the sentinels, those parts of your subconscious defence mechanisms which try to stop you from probing the stuff you really need/want to explore. This is the same concept as Murakami's big, heavy door. How much do you want to let go? That's the really big question for a writer. How much of a risk do I want to take? The big risk-takers could become great writers. Those who don't take the risks probably won't.


Vanessa Gebbie said...

In addition to 'letting go' I think you also need the ability to push on through when the going gets tough. When you are absolutely sure no one is ever going to read this crap. When you cant think what to write today. When you think the 'muse' has left and gone to live with someone else. When you get bad feedback from some prat or other, and need to reserves NOT to change it just because they didn't 'like it'
The best words were always 'Just do it.'

Tom Conoboy said...

Thanks Vanessa, excellent advice. It's those early hours in the morning, when you convince yourself that everything you've written is rubbish, that you have to beware of.

That's why I've always liked AK's push to keep subbing stuff. Those occasional hits are worth a huge amount in terms of self-confidence.

And "just do it" is spot on. Write, write, write: it's the only way it can happen.

Looking forward to the publication of your novel, by the way. I'll put something up on here when it comes out.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thanks Tom, for offering to host/review The Coward as and when. That's fab.
And aye, nodding to the other stuff, the early morning self-doubt... I found it quite tough on occasion to keep going with the novel. As you say, it's great when you have the occasional hit or comp place to keep the spirits up - but what happens if you aren't writing much short work for the duration? The work stretches out and away, and becomes a series of hurdles.

"Just jump em. Do it. get on with it." (That's not me talking, is it?!)

Joel said...

This week brings us a profile of Murakami in the New York Times magazine. Better and more detailed than the Guardian piece, I think. I've discussed it in a post on my blog (here), where me and my fellow writers discuss Murakami quite a bit.


Tom Conoboy said...

Hi Joel, thanks for that. It is indeed an interesting feature on him. I am resolved to buy the new book, but I'm still uncertain about it, and nothing I read in the article assuages those concerns. I just fear it's going to be a re-tread of all the usual Murakamisms.

But I hope I'm proved wrong.

Riz said...

I have just put down Kafka on the Shore after reading the first few chapters. The magic just wasn't there. I wasn't sure if I had "moved on" with passage of time, or whether Murakami had lost his knack. Thanks for pointing out A Wild Sheep Chase and Wind-up Bird Chronical, as worth a read. I'll prob give these a try before considering the beast that is 1Q84.