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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Friday, February 20, 2015

Has there been a falling off in Murakami's stye?

I was (at least among American readers) an early fan of Haruki Murikami and have enjoyed many of his novels and short stories over the years but am I alone in thinking that there's been a falling off in recent years, that he's got a certain palette that he works and certain images and themes that emerge in almost every story but whereas in his earlier stories he used the elements to create a mysterious world and to bring his often lonely and isolate protagonists to some type of self-knowledge or revelation in recent stories he just drops in the elements and relies on their presence alone, rather than action, character, or even setting, to create his mood or milieu. It's as if he uses symbols not to enhance meaning but to stand in for meaning, a kind of literary scrip. Story in current New Yorker, Kino, is a case in point: it has the isolated protagonist, survivor of a broken, childless marriage, the small bar or restaurant that the protag runs or frequents (an element apparently drawn from HM's life), cats, mysterious and opaque strangers, injured woman, running, early American jazz - probably other elements, too. In this story the protag and narrator, Kino, runs a small bar in an out-of-the way Tokyo locale; the bar is frequented by a solitary character about whom K knows little; after some inconsequential episodes, strangely he begins to see snakes in the vicinity, which make no sense to him (or us). Then the guy who frequents the bar sends him on a mysterious journey: go away, send me a postcard with no writing on it, at this address, go as far as you can, don't spend long in any one place. OK. So what to make of this? At the end, in a far-off city in a commercial hotel, he writes a postcard with a message - and then comes to the realization that he truly suffered hurt and humiliation when his wife betrayed him with one of his co-workers (ending their marriage). That's a good element in the story - it's rare in an HM story for a character to have insight into feelings - they tend to remain cool and distant and analytic, as Kino is until the last paragraph or two of the story - but what brought him to this point? Is there any explanation - realistic or symbolic - for the man in the bar, the woman with the cigarette burns, the snakes, the seemingly pointless journey? Compare this with Wild Sheep Chase, the first novel of his I read, and I recall - distantly - that it also involved a long a seemingly pointless journey but that the protag learned things along the way and even if the events weren't entirely realistic they formed a logic of their own. Now, it's just a series of tricks and tropes. The writing as always is cool and precise, and the discovery of feelings suggests a new dimension in his work, so I hope he will continue to write and to astonish and surprise me with his next story.

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