Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Hear the Wind Sing - Haruki Murakami

Read: December 2008

Hear the Wind Sing in one tweet sized chunk: More than almost any other author, Murakami is responsible for my absolute love of fiction. Hear the Wind Sing is his first novel: short, uncertain, fascinating. Until last November I was a pretty conventional reader, focused mostly on easily available, popular literary fiction. Then, one day, searching around on Wikipedia for any interesting facts to support a review I was writing for A Wild Sheep Chase I stumbled across the hidden secret of Haruki Murakami’s first two novels. Murakami has made it clear that he will never let either of these books be published in the west, considering them “weak.” In a 1991 interview with Publishers Weekly he described the evolution of his writing. A Wild Sheep Chase, he said, was “the first book where I could feel a kind of sensation, the joy of telling a story. When you read a good story, you just keep reading. When I write a good story, I just keep writing.” So these first two books, Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball, 1973 are likely to remain relatively obscure for a while to come. That day, happily, I made the transition to the more rarefied (admittedly pompous) status of ‘book collector.’ How sad it is that this subtle semantic transition gives me such absurd pleasure. Hear the Wind Sing is Murakami’s first novel, a 130 page mini-book, A6 in format and only ever published in Japan, translated to help students learn to speak English. Megan gave me it last Christmas, cunningly hidden within a new pair of jeans. I have never collected anything before, certainly nothing which required careful handling or a nice plastic slipcase, and even now I catch myself staring at it with disbelief, amazed that something so precious and rare should have found its way to my house. I love it. But what of the book itself? It is the first in the 'trilogy of the rat’ which culminated in A Wild Sheep Chase, and the plot is what one might expect from a Murakami novel. It begins on August 8, 1970 (irrelevantly, that is my birthday, twelve years before I was born!) and follows the story of an unnamed twenty-one year old narrator as he spends nineteen days in his life, not doing very much. He spends much time cooking, eating and drinking, listening to western music, and reading western fiction. He drinks in a local bar where he talks with his friend, the rat, who has strong feelings about alienation and society. Around this core are ponderings on the nature of writing. This offers interesting insight into Murakami's early concerns. Hear the Wind Sing was written an hour at a time, every night, for four months, during which he must have mused, like I imagine most new novelists do, on the purpose and nature of fiction writing. Occasionally these thoughts are profound, often run-of-the-mill. But even in their amateurishness, perhaps even because of it, they are intriguing food for thought. Reading early, unpublished work provides a glimpse into the development of an author; an inspiring reminder that everyone has to learn their craft for themselves. One of the joys of this title is that reading it you see that his archetypal no-frills style of writing was something natural to him from the beginning. Indeed, in many senses, this is the most unremarkable book you could imagine reading. It seems that above all else, what Murakami learned from writing this novel is the importance of a plot to keep the reader turning the pages. What Murakami’s later novels do so well is integrating philosophical thoughts into this plot, so each supports the other and the reader is as fascinated in the existential musings of the characters as they are in finding out what is going to happen next. Here the thoughts resound with Murakami’s usual gently wafting air of uncertain discovery and otherworldly intrusion, but they do not transcend the narrative and draw the reader in. There is something special about Murakami which makes the words sparkle on the page. You only see it when you look out of the corner of your eye, late at night with a drink in your hand and a record playing on the stereo, and yet it is there. Something impossible to define. It engenders a tenderness, a sense of beauty, a love of literature. More than almost any other author, Murakami is responsible for my absolute love of fiction. Now I am saving up to buy Pinball, 1973. It is £149 on Amazon marketplace and I want it more than anything else I can think of. Perhaps this summer I will treat myself. Until then, I suspect I’ll waste more hours of life looking up at Hear the Wind Sing and smiling quietly to myself. 7 out of 10

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