Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Despair, disillusionment, hell, reality

I like Murakami. I like that his books have libraries and music and cats, and people reading and listening and caring about cats. I love that the narrator of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World has read Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge (a favourite of mine) three times.

But like a boat with a twisted rudder, I kept coming back to the same place. I wasn't going anywhere. I was myself, waiting on the shore for me to return.

Was that so depressing?

Who knows? Maybe that was "despair." What Turgenev called "disillusionment." Or Dostoevsky, "hell." Or Somerset Maugham, "reality." Whatever the label, I figured it was me.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is definitely my favourite Murakami, but Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is a solid second.

Two stories, chapters intersected and running in parallel. They don't seem to bear much relation to each other at first.

One thread is set in a slightly altered almost-now. The narrator is a Calcutec; he processes data for the System, and is wary of Semiotecs; he doesn't have much of a past, but there's a Duran Duran song he keeps thinking back to. Then there's the end of the world — fairly idyllic, but as with most utopias (is this an afterlife?), something's a bit off — a true sense of self seems to be lacking. To enter the town, the narrator has to have his shadow cut off; he's assigned the job of "dreamreader" and he reads dreams by sensing them through his fingertips from animal skulls. The Calcutec has a skull too; the mad scientist who gave it to him is working on how the trapped soundwaves should enable you to reconstruct memories. Both narrators (the same narrator?) grow into awareness of their realities.

You almost don't notice how odd the plots are until you try to summarize them for someone else. Despite the weirdness, the mind-bendiness, the surreality of Murakami's novels, there's something simple and sincere, completely unpretentious, about how their told. It's honest.

"I don't understand." In fact, I didn't understand. On the whole, I'm a regular guy. I say I understand when I do, and I say I don't when I don't. I try not to mince words. It seems to me a lot of trouble in this world has its origins in vague speech. Most people, when they go around not speaking clearly, somewhere in their unconscious they're asking for trouble.

Which is why, usually, I don't say much at all. (Maybe this is why I'm an editor — ridding the world of trouble one vague sentence at a time.)
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