Fans of Haruki Murakami are “highly unlikely” ever to have the opportunity to “corner him at a book-signing session”, the author of Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle famously doesn’t get “out and about much”. But the “beautiful essays” in this collection offer the next best thing: in them, Murakami looks “straight and hard” at the business of novel writing.
One essay recounts the oft-told story – “which never loses its talismanic power” – of how a 29-year-old Murakami, then the owner of a jazz café, had an epiphany while attending a baseball match. As one of his team struck the ball, he said to himself “I think I can write a novel” – and went out and bought an expensive fountain pen. Another offers an “extraordinary account” of how, while writing his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, Murakami hit upon his famously “neutral” writing voice: frustrated by his “try-too-hard” Japanese, he translated it into basic English, before translating that back into correspondingly simple Japanese. Murakami is capable of being “startlingly banal”, “Just like there are all kinds of people there are all kinds of novelists,” But he can also can be “utterly compelling”, especially when describing his sense of writing as a vocation, or his “wonderfully perverse” working methods. I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone convey more powerfully the “almost horrible compulsion to his subject the novelist feels”. And there’s a splendid dottiness to some of his claims (like his suggestion that “once a writer puts on fat, it’s all over”). In short, this “very strange” book is a mix of the “sweetly bland” and the “utterly bizarre”– the same “sunny combination” that has made Murakami’s novels a global phenomenon.