Thursday, September 1, 2011

All Over The Place With Murakami

I am 464 pages into Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. For about 325 pages I didn't like this book but I kept reading it because Davin Malasarn said it was good. On or about page 325 I realized that I was reading it the wrong way, insisting it make sense and obey my aesthetics of form. What I really needed to do was just read along and enjoy the sense of being uprooted, accept the unlikely events and just see how Murakami would surprise me. A little over a year of story-time has gone by now and very little of the events in the book are clear to me, and I have almost no idea what the dramatic purpose of any of the characters is. Which is all fine. The first half of the book is told in essentially first-person by Okada, the protagonist, but in the second half Murakami introduces a third-person narrative about one of the new characters (Cinnamon, son of Nutmeg). It's possible that this third-person account is actually given by Okada, but there's no way of knowing at this point. He's also introduced a series of letters written by one of the secondary characters to the protagonist, which seem to be essentially statements of theme, or maybe arguments in support of Murakami's storytelling strategems. I'm not sure at all what's going on. But I am sure that I'm enjoying the book now (despite the ongoing clunkiness of the prose here and there for which I blame the translator) and I'm enjoying the constant sense of surprise I get from the narrative.

Reading this book while working on a novel of my own has started me thinking about the idea of surprise in a story. I think I have a tendency to write sort of overdetermined stories, where the primary movement is almost implacably in a single direction, the narrative broken up by comic relief and short diversions here and there, but essentially the plots are one thing. I have decided, possibly thanks to Murakami but likely more thanks to Davin Malasarn, that my plots should be more surprising. The stories should feel free to change direction radically in the middle.

I don't know if this is a good thing at all, or if it's just something I'm choosing arbitrarily. After all, Graham Swift's novel Waterland was certainly multilayered and memorable, but the action in each of the three timelines pretty much all aimed itself the same direction and I had no problem with that. The same with Louis deBernieres' Birds Without Wings. So I don't know. To tell the truth, nothing about my writing has been quite the same after I read Virgina Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. My ideas about point-of-view and narrative distance all went out the window. Possibly I have an as-yet-unformed Idea in my head and I'm just casting about trying to give it a name before I've seen it clearly in the light of day. Very likely that's it. But the idea of the Unexpected seems to be calling to me in a very very very loud voice and I think I'll try to find out what it wants to say to me.

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