Break on through
The elusive Murakami

Up from the Underground
The healer
The Outsider
The human cost

Roll over Basho
Murakami is seeking new style
Mizumaru Ansei

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Break on Through
  July 2001


Haruki Murakami writes the most bizarre novels-dark, cool, eminently rational in tone, they are nevertheless populated with psychics and monsters, and frequently cut with intermittent dreams, or dreamlike facts, or memories of dreams that only achieve a measure of reality by forming the basis of his characters' uneasy lives.



His stories have plots that in summary make no sense, and yet while reading, you are propelled along by a suspense so great that even the most fantastic elements of Murakami's underworlds appear to be merely the logical pieces of a broader, more coherent intent. The sensation is not entirely pleasant; a friend of mine once complained that Murakami novels were laced with heroin, and this seems remarkably apt, for the books have a kind of drugged, heady fascination about them that quickly becomes addictive.


What exactly is so compelling about Murakami? Despite the discrete concerns of each work, he essentially writes about one thing: there is, in his books, a familiar world full of the living specifics of music, weather, books, food, marriage, and sex; and then there is its shadow, invariably dark and dreamlike, which intrudes upon the original with intent to harm. The intersection of the familiar and the menacing forms the core of Murakami's interest. Coupled with sheer nerve, this obsession spawns a kind of fantasy literature that has no real precedent. (DeLillo and Pynchon are often cited in the same breath, but Murakami is neither as somber as DeLillo nor as unreadable as later Pynchon.)



Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, for instance, is a kind of metafictional detective story that plunges the reader directly into the vagaries that inhabit the space between reality and the shadow world. The book alternates between two wildly different narratives, the first set in a futuristic version of Tokyo, the second in a place called the Town, which is peopled by figures whose names are iconic rather than individual: the Gatekeeper, the Librarian, the Colonel.


Both stories are told in the first person, but their overtones are as distinct as their locales. The wry, disaffected voice of the first narrator seems to have nothing to do with the rich, measured pace of the second. Narrator I talks about sex and money and facts; Narrator II talks about death and memory and mind. Narrator I encodes data for the government; Narrator II reads dreams for the Town. Narrator I scrambles information; Narrator II decodes it.

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