Posted on July 20, 2008 - by MG
“Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami – One of my favourite books ever.
Well I am! (Details at the end of this post, and I promise to keep you all updated…)
I only wish I could claim to be the first children’s author to be massively influenced by the wonderful Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Even if there aren’t any Japanese children’s authors who are evidently under his spell – and how could there NOT be – there’s Daniel Handler.
Daniel Handler – aka Lemony Snicket, author of “A Series Of Unfortunate Events” once wrote a brilliant article with the succinctly direct title: I Love Murakami. Handler, being a graduate of English and a Very Clever Bloke to judge by the cut of his gib, writes eloquently of Murakami’s general excellence in a way that I never could.
But I do know what reading Murakami did for me and it’s nothing less than this: it enabled me to write a publishable novel.
I’ve written before about the day I met several publishers who were interested in acquiring ‘The Joshua Files’. And one of them commented “We can’t believe this is your first novel!” to which I replied (laughing) – “Well it’s not – it’s my first publishable novel. I’ve written three before this.” “So what happened,” they asked, “between writing the other three and writing Joshua Files?”
So I told them the truth. In the meantime I’d read almost all of the works of Haruki Murakami.
Backtrack a little. There I was with two manuscripts written in 6 months and both getting essentially rejected by agents. Actually the second ms was getting some interest but it wasn’t quite making the grade. And I understood this: without a quantum leap, my writing was not going to be good enough to be published. Something had to change; something major. I had maybe 50% of what was needed. The rest of the 50% was going to have to come with hard study, graft and experience. Or a bolt from the blue.
I couldn’t be bothered to do it the hard way. Crumbs, I was almost 40 years old! I didn’t have too much time left to get a writing career off the ground whilst I was still young enough to enjoy it (both my parents died aged 46 – that gives you a sense of urgency…).
So I began actively to search for the bolt from the blue.
I read a book on how to structure stories for screenplays, even wrote a screenplay for practice. And meantime, I read all the works of an author until then unknown to me – Haruki Murakami.
Bless TIME Magazine – it was the second time in my life that reading an article there literally changed my life. I read about this Murakami guy whose new book “Kafka On The Shore” was selling like hotcakes. The combination of elements that his stories used sounded scrummy – mysterious young women, missing cats, magical realism, laconic and distant young men, jazz, Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart and dreams. Too good to be true!
So I went to Borders and picked out three books “South of the Border, West of the Sun”, “Sputnik Sweetheart” and “Norwegian Wood”. (Kafka was only out in hardback and I’m stingy). I figured I’d dip my toe first…I began with “South of the Border, West of the Sun” because it’s the shortest.
From the first page I was – more than captivated – almost possessed. There was something about this wistful, minimalist and apparently very straightforward style that was entirely new to me. It was direct and with the simplest of language, sprinkled with unusual and naturalistic metaphors, tapped something deep within.
This is common for readers of Haruki, so I hear. Fans talk about feeling that their brains have been altered. I read that book almost at one sitting and finished in a daze, wondering what had just happened. I moved on to “Norwegian Wood”, a longer read, and began to feel even more deeply moved. It’s a story of a boy aged 19 who falls in love with a strangely troubled girl, with tragic consequences. But the sequences where the two teenagers walk together, talk and fall in love reminded me so keenly of the first time I fell in love, one summer in Mexico when I was 18, that I actually began to cry from the memory. And frankly, with sorrow for the fact that I broke that boy’s heart by being too afraid to let what developed between us grow into anything permanent.
Okay so we all fall in love for the first time and it’s often painful. When we’re middle-aged of course we look back and wonder. That’s what Norwegian Wood is about – a guy in his late 30s looking back at his first love. Nothing new under the sun, and yet Murakami’s writing spoke – as no other writer ever had – directly to those memories. It brought them back. Sad though they were – it was good to see them again!
Dang, I thought. My boy hero needed some of that Murakami wisftulness and haiku-like poetry. It could be just the antidote to the high-octane action and conspiracy thriller elements. I was already planning a sequel to the original version of Invisible City. So I wrote the first few pages, under the influence of Haruki.
It changed something. The character was totally different to the first boy I’d written. He was lost in grief. He longed for his missing father, or at least for answers. The disappearance of Andres Garcia had tapped deep into his psyche, with resultant disturbing dreams. In fact I stole one of my own dreams, from when my mother died.
So when I came to rewrite my boy-hero-discovers-hidden-Mayan-city story, I knew exactly what he sounded like. That particular chapter, by the way, now appears near the opening of Joshua book 2. (Still no title…)
There are homages to Haruki all over Invisible City, if you know what to spot. The most obvious one is the jazz motif. The second most obvious is the Hotel Delfin (Dolphin) – of course a reference to the infamous Dolphin Hotel of “A Wild Sheep Chase” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”.
Haruki’s memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is out soon, and of course I’ll be buying it right away and eating it up.
But also – I’m going to send him a copy of “Invisible City”. Yeah I know, stalkah, fangirl… I just have to though. He has to know how grateful I am.
This is how good Haruki Murakami is; amnesia-worthy i.e. worth getting the memory of reading him wiped from your mind so that you can read him all over again for the first time.
If you want to know more I recommend reading this: Ten Things You Need To Know About Haruki Murakami (quite accurately subtitled The key facts about the coolest writer in the world today.) And for a taste – just a teeny one – here’s a short story of his: On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning.
(And if I receive a reply – which I doubt because he’s a GENIUS and I’m NOT WORTHY – I’ll let you know what he says…)