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Monday, August 22, 2016

10 best Murakami books

Publishers Weekly provides a list:
1. A Wild Sheep Chase - The original title of this novel is “An adventure concerning sheep,” and it lives up to that title. In it, the Murakami hero takes on a political-business-industry syndicate with apparently limitless money and power, and he does it on his own terms. Some of the most interesting parts of the novel take place in the rural wilds of Hokkaido, which has been interpreted alternately as the hero’s inner mind, or as a mythological land of the dead. At its heart, like many Murakami novels, this is a tale of conflict between the will of the individual and the demands of an impersonal State. Oh, and there is a really cool, all-empowering sheep, too.

2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - This is another novel that features an “other world,” this time taking the form of a labyrinthine hotel, in which the hero’s wife, Kumiko, is held prisoner by her evil brother, Wataya Noboru. The hero, a mild-manner, unemployed house-husband named Okada Tōru, must find his way into this metaphysical labyrinth, confront Noboru, and rescue Kumiko. Meanwhile, he must also deal with those awkward moments when the coiled springs of time run down, and different historical epochs slam into one another. The work is a study of sex, violence, and collective memories lost and regained.

3. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - If Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and H.G. Wells has gotten together to write a novel, it might have looked like this. Its dual narratives portray, alternately, the mean streets of a slightly futuristic Tokyo embroiled in an information war with real casualties, and a bucolic fantasy world in the form of a Town, surrounded by a massive, perfect wall, populated by people without shadows, a fearsome Gatekeeper, and unicorns. The hero, finally, must choose between the two worlds for his permanent home.

4. 1Q84 - This is the first novel in which Murakami takes up the risky topic of fringe religious groups—a sore spot in Japan since the Aum Shinrikyō terrorist attack of 1995. As the work’s fictitious cult, Sakigake, attempts to re-establish its connection with earth spirits known as the Little People, the novel pursues a central plot of bringing together its two soul-mate heroes: a fitness instructor who moonlights as an assassin of abusive men, and a math genius who moonlights as a copywriter. As with other Murakami novels, this one looks hard at the tension between political and religious ideology and the inner soul of the individual.

5. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - Tsukuru Tazaki spends much of this story trying to understand why his circle of friends in high school expelled him from their group shortly after he left Nagoya to attend college in Tokyo. His quest for understanding takes him al the way to Finland, where he confronts some hard truths about his own inner self. It is a novel of betrayal and forgiveness, but above all, it is about growing up.
While they get the #1 book right, that's not how I see it. This is my top 10 Murakami list, keeping in mind that they specified "books", not "novels", which thereby permits the inclusion of both non-fiction and collections of short stories.
  1. A Wild Sheep Chase
  2. Kafka on the Shore
  3. Underground
  4. 1Q84
  5. The Elephant Vanishes and Other Stories
  6. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
  7. Hear the Wind Sing
  8. Dance Dance Dance
  9. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
  10. Norwegian Wood
Haruki Murakami is, without question, one of the greatest living writers, if not the greatest one now that Umberto Eco is dead. While he lacks any sense of spirituality, particularly in the Christian sense, and his grasp of human socio-sexuality is marginal, he more than makes up for these flaws by his observational skills, his intellectual curiosity, and his penetrating insights into human behavior.

Kafka on the Shore is this week's book of the week.

The third or fourth book on my list of books to write is a literary novel written in a style that is chiefly influenced by a) Murakami and b) Banks. I've already started it, and I'm hoping to be able to get back to it in the second half of next year.

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30 Comments:

Blogger buwaya puti August 22, 2016 3:40 PM  

That would be Iain Banks?

Anonymous Jeremy August 22, 2016 3:43 PM  

It is to my great shame that I have not read as much Murakami as you, Vox. Underground, however, is a phenomenal work.

Anonymous VFM #6306 August 22, 2016 3:44 PM  

...his grasp of human socio-sexuality is marginal...

You said it, brother. What is remarkable is that all the ridiculous passive male, controlling female autosex relations in his books are so strangely styled and intentionally symbolic that their gamma surrealism actually works. It is the one thing about Murakami I would change, but if I changed it would certainly ruin the books.

And Eco lives. After all, you wrote his name.

Anonymous Ryan ATL August 22, 2016 4:08 PM  

The only one I've read is 1Q84 and it was good, not sure I'd say it was great. The dialog was excellent.

Where do you put Cormac McCarthy in the rankings of current living and all time, VD?

Blogger Dave August 22, 2016 4:20 PM  

Vox, can you explain why the Kindle version (1st edition January 18, 2005) is more expensive $11.99 than the paperback sold by Amazon $9.52 (Publisher: Vintage January 3, 2006)

Just an Amazon thing?

Blogger Scott Rassbach August 22, 2016 4:27 PM  

I've been working my way through Banks' works, in date of publication order. I'm stuck on The Crow Road, which is rather banal. I got interested in him via his Culture novels, which pose some interesting questions even if the answers are unsatisfactory.

Blogger Matt August 22, 2016 4:45 PM  

Vox, what did you think of "Colorless Tsukuri Tazaki" ?

Anonymous Kyle August 22, 2016 4:47 PM  

Back when I was a hipster Japanophile in college, I would not have hesitated to say that Murakami was my favorite author.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland remains my favorite of his novels, by far. The premise is way ahead of its time, and Murakami's dreamlike style lends itself best to this type of setting. I'm amazed it hasn't been turned into a movie (though Inception, which came out a few years after I read this book, is sufficiently close that such an attempt may be deemed a ripoff.) It's a great book and won the Tanizaki prize for good reason.

I find his early books like Dance Dance Dance and Wild Sheep Chase to be something of a slog to get through, though. They feel like variations on the same thing. However, I read Wind-Up Bird before those, which feels like the polished, perfected version of what he was going for in those early novels.

Been ages since I've read Kafka, I recall that it was one of my favorites. I like Norwegian Wood too, though I think that the somewhat similar South Of The Border is better.

I must admit I've gotten out of Japanese literature in the past few years and haven't even read his most recent book yet.

Blogger VD August 22, 2016 4:49 PM  

Where do you put Cormac McCarthy in the rankings of current living and all time, VD?

I don't. I started one of his books, found it tedious, and never returned to it.

Blogger VD August 22, 2016 4:50 PM  

Vox, what did you think of "Colorless Tsukuri Tazaki"?

Good, not great.

Blogger SteelPalm August 22, 2016 5:11 PM  

Only read three of his books, but I would actually rate them;

1. Dance Dance Dance
2. Norwegian Wood
3. A Wild Sheep Chase

I consider all three works masterpieces, but it's curious that both you and Publishers Weekly rank "A Wild Sheep Chase" so high.

Anonymous DK_Ilonius August 22, 2016 5:14 PM  

Vox, I'll definitely be looking forward to your literary novel. It might be the book that makes you into a great novelist and if it comes together and does well, you can write a literary novel that is in the tradition of Umberto Eco and transcends him at the same time.

Someday, I might try writing a literary novel that combines Vox Day, Theodore Beale, and John C. Wright into some sort of transcendental epic.

There's also the combination of Tolstoy and Kafka that I'd like to do.

Blogger Dave August 22, 2016 5:19 PM  

Upon further inspection Amazon.com is selling most of Murakami's paperbacks(new) for $2-3 cheaper than the Random House LLC Kindle version.

So I picked up three of Amazon.com Murakami's paperbacks to get free shipping. Assuming the link in the post is your Amazon associates deal or whatever they call it.

Blogger Doom August 22, 2016 6:54 PM  

Read it? Be it! Of so some fool might suggest. *wink*

Blogger The Kurgan August 22, 2016 7:17 PM  

I think I'll up my bet to $25 that sea of skulls won't come out before December.

Blogger Jack Ward August 22, 2016 7:22 PM  

I would look forward to your literary efforts. Particularly if you try to better Eco. Its not hubris to want to outdo Eco; I suspect he himself would cheer you on.
I do hope, however, to enjoy Sea of Skulls first.

Blogger Jack Ward August 22, 2016 7:24 PM  

@15... Look Kurgan, you keep that kind of talk to yourself. We want him writing furiously to finish the first sequel and then start the second.

Blogger seeingsights August 22, 2016 7:46 PM  

I'm a fan of Murakami too.
There will be celebration worldwide at the announcement of Murakami winning the Nobel Prize.

Blogger Scott Birch August 22, 2016 9:09 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Alexandru August 22, 2016 9:16 PM  

Thanks for writing this up. Just this morning I was looking at picking up a Murakami novel. I remember reading one of your posts where you mentioned that you lived in Japan for a while. I just recently moved here and I’m trying to absorb as much culture and history as possible. I avoided Japan for a long time due to the silly liberal portrayal of Japan as a pervert anime loser playground filled with man children. Due to that I expected to like Japan as much as I like San Francisco. Yet I was beyond surprised when I discovered how ultra conservative and family oriented this country is. A model in cultural homogeneity.

Anonymous polyhedron August 22, 2016 11:09 PM  

Funny timing. Just last night I was searching through old VP posts, wondering which Murakami books to pick up. Glad to see my selections were well made. Went with 1, 2, 4, 9, and 10.

Blogger Skyler the Weird August 23, 2016 12:45 AM  

Murakami has a tendency to have a musical theme in his books. There was Liszt's La Mal du pays(Homesickness) from Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) in 'Colorless' and Leoš Janáček's Sinfonietta in 1Q84 and of course the Beatles Norwegian Wood in that book. I tried to listen to these works as I read.

I love how the music of his words relate to actual music.

Anonymous Spinrad's Agent August 23, 2016 2:08 AM  

A great fan of this man. I don't know how I'd rank his books, but would put the one on running after "Norwegian Wood", though I agree that both should be in the lower reaches.

"Underground" was a revelation. It's been years since I read it, and had forgotten he pulled this together until I saw it in your list. I would certainly put it in his top five, and think #3 is fair.

I came to H. Murakami after reading a couple of earlier novels by R. Murakami ("Coin Locker Babies" and "Almost Transparent Blue"), whom I preferred at the time (during the late 80s or early 90s). I haven't read any book by the R.M. in years so am not sure how he stands up.

People say that H. Murukami is a one trick pony, but I disagree. I pulled "Norwegian Wood" off my shelf (as we agree, one of his weaker efforts), and turned to a random page - p. 305 in my paperback copy by Vintage.

"... here I was, reading the same book in a girl's kitchen, wearing the undersized pyjamas of her dead father."

Found that sentence in two seconds. Like U. Eco, he will stand the test of time.

Anonymous r August 23, 2016 3:54 AM  

Certainly no argument about the place of Wild Sheep Chase from me. I've recommended reading both that and Underground to people who I think might like Murakami.

The Japanese have a unique sort of melancholy godlessness to them that, at its best, produces authors like Murakami. I think they might be the world's last true pagans. Some age, probably not ours, will see a Christian Japan, and it will be a strange and wonderful thing.

Anonymous Spinrad's Agent August 23, 2016 4:13 AM  

@24

r wrote:Some age, probably not ours, will see a Christian Japan, and it will be a strange and wonderful thing.

Have you read "Silence" by Shusaku ENDO? It doesn't turn on your statement, but it does say something interesting about Japan's historical relationship with Catholicism.

Besides, it's a fine historical novel and worth reading simply for that.

Blogger rumpole5 August 23, 2016 5:38 AM  

Reading Kafka On The Shore was a complete waste of time. It is a collection of aimless, loosely connect plot threads that never really tie up, or lead anywhere themselves. The protagonist just climbs back on the train after his ridiculous series of mother fucking, daddy issue, encounters, and that is it! Murkami builds up the parallel plot thread of the brain addled cat chatter guy & friend, which plot thread Murakami maintains by introducing a detailed TMI sex scene with a co-ed prostitute, (funded by a supernatural fried chicken magnate pimp, of course). That thread goes nowhere. The reader learns nothing about the actual cause of the mysterious event that fried the cat talkers brain, or actually how, or if, the feline-a-philiac idiot savant is related to the Kafka plot thread. Finally, after a "Kafka visits Shangra-la" scene, Murakami just ends the various plot thread by killing off the characters with natural cause deaths, and Kafka just climbs back on the Tokyo express. Sorry Vox, but the whole book was a disappointment. No over-arching revaluation of the human condition in this story.

Blogger VD August 23, 2016 6:44 AM  

It is a collection of aimless, loosely connect plot threads that never really tie up, or lead anywhere themselves.

You should probably give most Japanese literature a pass. It's about the ride, not the destination.

Blogger rumpole5 August 23, 2016 8:51 AM  

Thanks for the advice. I felt that my post might prove helpful for my fellow "mere bright" antediluvian troglodytes who expect a mystery story to provide at least a few ultimate answers.

Anonymous Frankenstein McBadperson August 23, 2016 4:52 PM  

Shusako Endo is interesting in my view, but there's sort of a dead end there, it's hard to say exactly why.

In my view the only really world-class Japanese writers are Oe Kenzaburo (!!!) and Tanizaki Junichiro (!!!!!!!!!!) Mori Ogai and Soseki Natsume, eh, I guess a decent third. And while some of Kawabata's short fiction is intriguing ("One Arm" and "House of Sleeping Beauties" are shocking, almost worthy of Oe and Tanizaki, and his longer stuff has an ethereal but not compelling effect), Murakami, I say: worthy of respect, to be sure, but not doing anything Pynchon couldn't do better, and Pynchon has a better perch. It's pretty hard to find a solidly-based world-view when you're Japanese, the culture has a profound literature but not a broad linguistic diaspora (I think a unique circumstance in letters, unless I'm mistaken), and then it got hammered by America, and that puts you in a weird position. Tanizaki I think solved it through sheer weirdness, and Oe solves it largely because he's brilliant, and also because of the problem of his son. "A Personal Matter / The Sky Monster" is one of the great one-two punches in modern lit. I know the guy who wrote the libretto for "Einstein on the Beach," the greatest opera of the modern era, and Oe has, well......

Anonymous Spinrad's Agent August 25, 2016 12:01 AM  

@29

I think I know what you mean about the dead end with Endo.

And yes, Oe is world class. And the others you mention. Part of me wants to include Abe Kobo, his books like "Inter Ice Age 4", "The Ark Sakura" and "The Ruined Map" in particular have stayed with me. I re-read "The Woman in the Dunes" a couple of years ago, finding it more powerful than the first time around in my 20s.

Personally, I like Japanese detective fiction, the earlier novels from the 40s and 50s. So maybe I'm not the best judge... :-)

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