It’s Saturday evening, and I’m esconced in my old arm chair with a mug of tea and Murakami’s latest (as far as I know – the guy is prolific). I’m about 180 pages in, and there’s luckily no end in sight. Reading Murakami can be seductively relaxing, the light, elegant and simple prose lulling you with descriptions of stillness and tranquility, with meditations on nature, time and self. Deceptively so, for as much as Murakami may enjoy describing quiet moments of cooking, of sitting with one’s eyes closed and listening to the forest, of routines that are as pleasurable as they are mundane, there are moments of true horror and violence sprinkled throughout, places where the story suddenly dips without warning into a nightmare world of surreal terror.
The question becomes: are these moments of cooking pasta while listening to The Thieving Magpie a screen behind which deeper forces are at work, or are they as much the focus of the novel as the more elusive and terrible elements? How can half formed thoughts about the stars be as important as the picking up of a knife and stabbing a hateful man over and over again?
I’ve always loved the seeminly passive, accepting manner in which Murakami’s protagonists accept the supernatural, the surreal and strange world within which they dwell. Whether faced with talking animals, psychic strangers, impossible geography or whatever else Murakami may dream of, his protagonists take it all in stride, seeming to simply shrug and accept it. They are like pools of water in which pebbles are dropped, quickly reverting to their smooth, contemplative selves. Again, I wonder, is this true passivity, an inability to deal with the world, to react ‘normally’, or is Murakami trying to show us something through their reactions?
His protagonists seem characterized by a sense of loss, of confusion, of displacement. They are not in synch with the world about them, with their loved ones, with their jobs and homes. What they suffer isn’t an outrageous and shattering existentialist crisis, but rather a mildly bewildering and challenging puzzle that they patiently and methodically seek to solve. A wife’s sudden decision to leave a marriage becomes as strange and inexplicable a phenomenom as any of the other supernatural occurences. Perhaps it is not that the supernatural is mundane, but the world, both banal and surreal, is in all parts inexplicable, strange and wonderful.
If I love Murakami’s work for anything, it is for this sense of deliberate exploration of the world about his characters. Even when they must climb into the bottom of a well, or reside in a mythical village tending unicorns, or search for elusive sheep across Japan, his characters always seem patient, calm, methodical, empathic and strong. They accept their confusion, their lack of understanding, both of the exterior and their interior world, and simply strive to come to terms with it all as best they can.
I’m perhaps one third of the way through Kafka on the Shore, but already I am caught up in its simple, elegant, lucid and enigmatic tale. Ah, I dive back in!