Murakami Interivew

Via the Literary Saloon I see a two part interview with Murakami dealing with his recent work, including his new novel, 1Q84.

Q: For the first time in one of your full-length novels, the narrative is given in the third-person. However, an intimacy close to that of a first-person narrative is maintained, and the young people in it are beautifully depicted. This made me realize once again that, even though you have been writing novels for the past 30 years, your work is still literature about early adulthood.

A: As they age, authors usually write well about the generation they’re in. I’m more interested in young people who are living in the present day and continuing to mature. I don’t mingle with people in their 20s and I know little about mobile phone novels or anime works. But I think these factors have little to do with the art of creating an “actual” story.

When I was 30 years old, I could only write well about my 30-year-old self. But I managed to write about a 15-year-old boy in “Kafka on the Shore” and a 19-year-old girl in “After Dark” as if writing about myself. In this work, I wanted to start the story by describing the feelings of 10-year-old Aomame. In particular, I wanted to delve deeper into how women feel or think in this work.

Since I was writing this story day after day over a long period of time, I came to feel like I was living together with the characters in the story and came to understand more clearly what kind of people they were. I would revise my writing over and over again to fine-tune it. Changing one descriptive word or a line of sentence can sometimes bring a certain character to life.

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I just finished 1Q84 (I keep wanting to write IQ84–is that Freudian?), and it’s not even as good as the uneven navel-gazing of “Kafka on the Shore.” It was trumpeted in the Japanese press the way books are hardly ever trumpeted, partly because of the shroud of silence Murakami (or his publicists?) lowered over the whole enterprise beforehand. There’s an industry of Murakami exegesis here in Japan, with people writing books (whole books, not just articles!) about the hidden meaning in his novels. Obviously, his novels invite this kind of speculation, since (esp. recently) there’s never much explanation of what’s going on in them, which of course is part of the problem. It’s all well and good to be cryptic, but cryptic isn’t a substitute for substance, and when all the questions that are posed endlessly by the characters are answered with more questions, and imaginary beings, and portals to other worlds, and none of it ever comes together with the satisfying click of the last chapters of “A Wild Sheep Chase” (for example), then you (the reader) are put in the position of having just read over 1000 pages of (granted) mellifluously written Japanese prose … for nothing. In the end, for me, Murakami’s technical facility with words doesn’t make up for the lack of ideas in his recent novels. And it’s sad, because he used to be so good.
I won’t discuss the story, since I’m sure some of you will want to read the novel when it’s translated.
On the other hand, I’m halfway through his translation of Chandler’s “Long Goodbye,” and it’s fantastic. He really has taken Japanese translation to another level. I got his translation of “The Great Gatsby” the other day, and am looking forward to it.

I’m not confident in Murakami’s ability to lay down his authorial voice and “adultness” to truly capture a ten-year-old’s thinking and world view. You have to be both egoless and masterful for that, to not come from a place of reflection and nostalgia. See Kelman’s “Kieron Smith, Boy” for the best attempt at honest childhood rendered.

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