Sunday, 20 December 2009

Pinball, 1973 - Haruki Murakami

Books, Time, and Silence 10 Days of Christmas: Day 5

Read: September 2009

Pinball, 1973
in one Tweet-sized chunk:
Like Hear the Wind Sing before it, Pinball, 1973 is for those interested in the development of Murakami as a writer more than those looking for a great book.

Pinball, 1973
is Murakami's second novel, the middle volume in what was to become known as The Trilogy of the Rat which culminated in A Wild Sheep Chase. Like its predecessor Hear the Wind Sing, it was never published outside Japan and as such has become a bit of a collectors item. However, unlike Hear The Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973 quickly went out of print, meaning that it now fetches anything from £150- many thousands around the world. And with speculation of a Nobel Prize for Literature refusing to die away, these prices are only likely to increase.

I have spent much of the last year searching the internet in the hope of finding a cheap copy, but to no avail. On at least two occasions I've even started saving up the £200 needed for a copy on Amazon marketplace. It turns out that I'm not cut out for specific saving projects. I just don't possess the discipline needed to quarantine a couple of quid each week when there are other things to buy. It seemed that it would be a long time before I was able to read what has become the Holy Grail for Murakami fans.

So imagine my delight when I came home one day to find that my wonderful wife Megan had discovered a pdf of the book on-line. ( It may not be the most pleasurable way to read a book, but reading in such a form creates a completely different reading experience. Psychologically, it is little different to reading an unpublished manuscript, or proof reading my own work, which is fitting given its nature and reputation. Murakami has made it clear that he will never let either of these books be published in the west, considering them “weak” compared to his later efforts.

It is difficult to dispute this. Yet that does not make Pinball, 1973 any the less fascinating. Like Hear the Wind Sing it is a short work, more novella than novel, following an unnamed narrator (that long time Murakami translator and scholar Jay Rubin has nicknamed 'Boku') as he goes about life in a typically introspective, and surreal manner. The most noticeable evolution from the first book is the presence of a plot. It seems that above all, what Murakami learned from Hear the Wind Sing is the importance of keeping the reader turning the page. What Murakami’s later novels do so well is integrate philosophical speculation and 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. Whereas Hear the Wind Sing was more a collection of vignettes and musings, Pinball, 1973, while still not the finished article, contains a cohesive plot which adds the element of an end goal to dive Boku's adventure.

The narration is complicated, however, by two narrative voices, one following Boku, and the other the Rat. Although the two friends never meet within the book, nor mention each other for that matter, the depth of their friendship is reflected in the loneliness of each other. They are together in spirit. The Rat is not in a good place, and as his brooding alcoholic depression deepens, he leaves Hokkaido, on his way to the bizarre situation we find him in during A Wild Sheep Chase.

On the surface of it, Boku is doing better. Having graduated college, he has started a small translation company with a friend, where he spends his days translating obscure product manuals. Then, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, a pair of twin girls appear in Boku's apartment and decide to stay indefinitely. Boku, being the typical Murakami protagonist, barely bats an eyelid, accepting them as a way of easing the loneliness in his heart. This loneliness stems from the death of his deceased girlfriend Naoko, who we learned in Hear the Wind Sing had hung herself. However it was not evident in that book to what extent her suicide had affected Boku. Now we learn that after her death he spent all his time in an arcade playing a Spaceship pinball machine, becoming addicted and substituting the emotional attachment he sought with Naoko for emotional attachment with a machine. Eventually he moved on and forgot about the machine, but when one day it pops back into his head he decides to try and track it down.

This is all familiar Murakami territory, particularly since wells, cats and the archetypal bar all make appearances. But where it differs from later work is in tone. There is a lack of warmth to Boku's adventure, he is a little too distant to identify with, and the happenings are often just the other side of the magical realist tight-rope. The nameless twins here seem largely superfluous, save as a clunky representation of the extent of Boku's atomisation.

Pinball, 1973, like Hear the Wind Sing before it, is a work in progress. It represents the gradual development of Murakami's style, and a point of learning for his storytelling craft. For fans it makes a fascinating and yet familiar addition to the canon. Nonetheless, it is easy to see why Murakami is unwilling to let it be published outside of Japan, for it is nowhere near the standard of his later novels.

5.5 out of 10
(as a stand alone novel)
7 out of 10
(for those interested in the development of Murakami as a writer)

1 comment:

Karm said...

Great piece about one of my favourite authors, Thanks for posted that link