This is the first review I’ve read of the new Murakami book. My feeling is that Nathaniel Rich, representing The Atlantic’s point of view, could have done a lot better. Essentially, it reads to me like a bunch of clichés about Murakami’s writing, minus any actual critical judgment about this book, or any deep insight into how this book feels or works. To wit:
Yet we’re undeniably in Murakamiland. Nobody else could have written this novel, or dared to try. Then again, given the remarkable continuity of his fiction, nearly every Murakami novel feels like a new volume of the same meganovel, a vast saga that is now approaching 7,000 pages in length.
As in all the other novels, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki’s plot is gripping, but ultimately inconsequential. The tone is wistful, mysterious, winsome, disturbing, seductive. It is full of gorgeous, incongruous imagery
And page after page, we are confronted with the riddle that is Murakami’s prose. No great writer writes as many bad sentences as Murakami does.
The most charitable explanation is that in Murakami’s fiction, his ugly sentences, though often distracting, serve a strategic purpose. Like the hokey vernacular and use of brand names in Stephen King’s fiction, Murakami’s impoverished language situates us in a realm of utter banality, a simplified black-and-white world in which everything is as it appears.
The mesmeric pull of Murakami’s fiction lies in this tension between the narrator’s perfectly ordinary existence and this shadow world, which might reside in our subconscious or even in an alternate universe, where we are free to enact our darkest, most violent, most perverse fantasies.
Murakami writes genre fiction—formulaic, conventional, with an emphasis on plot. But it is a genre that he has invented himself, drawing elements from fantasy, noir, horror, sci-fi, and the genre we call “literary fiction.”
Though we know where we’re going, and must endure plenty of bumps in the road, the trip is rarely boring, his company is amiable, and we can rest assured that he will take us to strange places we’ve never been before, except perhaps in dreams.
Bae Suah is one of the more astonishing authors I’ve discovered lately. So when I saw that an essays of hers on Sebald had been translated, I wanted to read it.
It was After Nature that got me hooked on Sebald. I opened the wings of the altarpiece that was Sebald himself and entered the world I found there, that world that had initially seemed as inscrutable as the man. Even now, it seems as though I’ve forgotten to go back to the world I’d known before. I discovered that for certain people, time is divided into Before Sebald and After Sebald.
After I went to Germany for the first time in 2001 and started learning German, I spent a long time wandering in search of something. I can’t say for sure quite what that thing was. I wanted to learn the language through its literature, and in order to do that I wanted to find suitable German writers. Of course, the likes of Kafka and Peter Handke were old favourites of mine, but they weren’t enough. What I needed was a writer I hadn’t encountered before, so that my first experience of their writing would be in German, the language I’d only just begun to learn. I wanted to revel in the beauty of literature at the same time as enjoying a certain linguistic alienation, reading slowly and clumsily in an unfamiliar language estranged from my mother tongue. I was already yearning for the kind of writer I would come to love through such a process. But it wasn’t easy. I’m a reader as much as a writer yet, unfortunately, there hadn’t been that many cases where it was really the writer themselves, the particular style or worldview that persisted across their oeuvre, and not just the individual work, that captured my imagination. As a reader I was aware of what a great stroke of luck would be needed for this to happen.
The one who taught me as I was then to go ‘wild’ over their own particular way of perceiving and examining the world, their idiosyncratic language, was Sebald. Reading Sebald was different from reading other writers. Once I’d grasped that first sentence, he quickly sucked me in. How to describe the feeling I had after finishing After Nature? All I can say is that it was the moment that marked a transition in my life as a lover of literature, from Before Sebald to After Sebald.
Thanks to Michael Orthofer for this blast from the past. In his look back through the days of yore for various literary websites, it’s nice of Michael to include The Quarterly Conversation among the sites that have “moved up in the world.” Although it’s a little fuzzy now, I still remember those old Typepad days, as well as when I used to code each page of the site by hand in a text editor. Ahh, the memories, which reminds me, the site is due for an update one of these days . . .
The writing on this is horrifyingly bad, but there is some interesting information here about the things David Foster Wallace wrote in books he read.
Daniel Mendelsohn’s introduction to the NYRB Classics’ reissue of Augustus is now available online as part of the Aug 14 issue of the New York Review.
If you’re a fan of Williams, this book will seem different in some interesting ways. It’s much more obviously postmodern, in the sense that it’s a bit of a fantasia constructed on the life of a historical figure, and it takes place completely via fake historical documents (letters, diaries, etc) that Williams creates entirely. The preoccupations are the same, however, except perhaps that this book is much more interested in . . . continue reading, and add your comments
I don’t expect The New York Times to have mastered the minutia of every single topic on earth, but it would be nice if the paper of record managed to correct the most glaring errors in this profile.
Here’s a hint of where to start:
That is not to say that Mr. Krasznahorkai is an easy read. He writes sentences that can go on for pages and pages: “The Melancholy of Resistance,” in which a bizarre circus wanders into yet another small town in the dead of winter, toting a gigantic stuffed whale, consists of a . . . continue reading, and add your comments
A nice review at Music & Literature of the latest book from Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows. For those of you who have been enjoying Murnane’s late style, as seen in Barley Patch and A History of Reading, this is very much of a piece with that project. Although it’s also its own book, not simply a retread of what Murnane has done in those titles.
Interestingly, Murnane’s 40-year-old title A Lifetime on Clouds was recently re-released, and it’s very pertinent to A Million Windows. Murnane revisits (at length) one of the key . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Writer Pierre Ryckmans, aka Simon Leys, died earlier this week. So, perhaps the kind memorial messages that are appearing will induce you to pick up some of his work. He was an extraordinary (and often combative) literary critic, as well as someone who wrote eloquently on translation. You can find all of that in his collected essays, The Hall of Uselessness, released last year by NYRB Classics.
Ian Buruma’s NYRB piece on said book is available here. And NYRB Classics has made one essay from the collection available on their Tumblr. And the Sydney . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Stuart Jeffries reviews the new biography of Walter Benjamin, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life, in The Guardian.
In the summer of 1932, Benjamin was very nearly at the end of his rope. Professionally, his dreams of academic tenure had been crushed and he was struggling to make a living as a writer at the moment when opportunities for a Jew publishing in Germany were, thanks to Hitler’s poisoning of intellectual life, about to dwindle almost to nothing.
His personal life, too, was in tatters. Acrimoniously divorced from his wife Dora, all but estranged from his only . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Fans of Stoner-author John Williams (or just fans of great literature), NYRB Classics is soon releasing Williams’s final novel, Augustus. I’ve about 2/3 of the way through and it’s excellent.