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.