I’m working through Haruki Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicles for the first time. Strike that. Let’s not oversell it; I’m a few pages into WUBC. Flipping past the numerous reviews of the recent 1Q84 impressed upon me two things: 1. Murakami is a genius, etc. 2 1Q84 was probably not a great introduction to his work*.
*On the other hand, I sometimes perversely wonder whether the best way to be introduced to a great master is through their least-regarded work. There’s always the chance that the experience will be so bad it will turn you off forever, but if it doesn’t then every new work is better than the last.
And really, it’s far too early for me to be giving any sort of opinions on the work. I’m literally like 10 pages in. One thing I can say is that I’m enjoying the similarities between Murakami’s work and that of one of my current favorite writers, David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet)*.
*Murakami’s such a well known and beloved figure that it’s probably meaningless to say that any writer is “familiar” with his work, but I would put money down on the fact that Mitchell–who has set several of his works in Japan–has consciously modeled his style on him.
One of the thing that I’m sensing about Murakami is that he, like Mitchell, likes to play with the idea of characters that are both completely specific and completely symbolic. These characters are just slightly larger than life, but not so much as to disrupt a sense of reality. This frees the writer to write in a style that’s a little more plot-centric while remaining in the realm of literary fiction without becoming banal. It’s the strategy that ties Murakami’s pop-culture references and hints at magic realism, and Mitchell’s polyvocality and postmodernism together. Characters that are complete archetypes, that in a less ambitious work would be stock, are given weight by the knowledge that all of their actions carry subtext, and that for all the emphasis on narrative and plot there is another story also being explored.