The french edition, translation by Hélène Morita
One of the perks of being a book addict with a sudden injury is that people buy you books to make you feel better. And when the people in question are your siblings, they choose them well (at least in my case, but my siblings are quite frankly awesome, and I’m aware I say that at a time when none of them has woken me up too early in the last 8 years or so, easier to love them when you don’t bump into them constantly!)
So, they recently bought me Murakami’s last published book (in french), which are in fact his two first novels, and what he calls – in an essay/introduction-type-thing present at the beginning of the book, his “kitchen table fiction” – recalling how he wrote them in the late hours of the night, after working in his Jazz bar.
I don’t know if it is any relevance to summarize the plot, in a Murakami novel. They have all the central themes and are set in the same universe as A wild Sheep Chase
– his next “first” novel: the protagonist and narrator, unnamed, but a young-ish man, the Rat, and J’s Bar. What the main characters do or do not is of little consequence: in the first, the protagonist encounters a girl, and is reminded of the other sexual encounters he has had, discusses literature and life with the Rat, at J’s Bar. In the second, he sets up a translation company and plays pinball, and muses about the same things.
None of the elements of either of those short novels are surprising. What is surprising, maybe, is that precise fact: they don’t feel like a first attempt at a style or at building a universe, it is already Murakami as we know it, it has the same style, the same ambiance, the same cuts through the story telling, the same slightly odd coincidences or elements of magical realism, it features a male character taking about the strange women he has met, and musing about jazz, literature, life. It is, in short, like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while and feeling like everything is the same.
And I don’t know if I expected to find them any different, after all, my favorite Murakami novels are the ones that stray a bit from those lines, so it might be the reason I didn’t enjoy those two so much. But still, they are impressive, and you wonder how a writer can find his voice, so early on, and keep it with such a consistency of excellence.
A good start for the #AW80BOOKS travel, and, of course, a must-read for any Murakami fan – not that there is need to say this, any Murakami fan probably already knows of it;)
“Why do you read books?” he asked. “Why do you drink beer?” I replied without glancing in his direction”