Archive for Haruki Murakami

the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2020 by xi'an

Le Monde called its readers to vote for their five favourite novels, with no major surprise in the results, except maybe Harry Potter coming up top. Before Voyage au bout de la nuit and (the predictable) A la recherche du temps perdu. And a complete unknown, Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as 12th and first science fiction book. Above both the Foundation novels (16th). And Dune (32nd). And Hyperion Cantos (52). But no Jules Verne! In a sense, it reflects upon the French high school curriculum on literature that almost uniquely focus on French 19th and 20th books. (Missing also Abe, Conrad, Chandler, Dickens, Ishiguro, Joyce, Kawabata, Madame de Lafayette, Levi, Morante, Naipaul, Rabelais, Rushdie, Singer, and so many others…) Interestingly (or not), Sartre did not make it to the list, despite his literature 1953 Nobel Prize, maybe because so few read the (appalling) books of his chemins de la liberté trilogy.

I did send my vote in due time but cannot remember for certain all the five titles I chose except for Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (2nd), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (74th) and maybe Fedor Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov (24th). Maybe not as I may have included Barbey d’Aurevilly’s L’ensorcelée, Iain Pears’ An instance at the fingerpost, and Graham Greene’s The End of the affair, neither of which made it in the list. Here are some books from the list that would have made it to my own 101 list, although not necessarily as my first choice of titles for authors like Hugo (1793!) or Malraux (l’Espoir). (Warning: Amazon Associate links).

走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること [book review]

Posted in Books, Running with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2014 by xi'an

The English title of this 2007 book of Murakami is “What I talk about when I talk about running”. Which is a parody of Raymond Carver’s collection of [superb] short stories, “What we talk about when we talk about love”. (Murakami translated the complete œuvres of Raymond Carver in Japanese.) It is a sort of diary about Murakami’s running practice and the reasons why he is running. It definitely is not a novel and the style is quite loose or lazy, but this is not a drawback as the way the book is written somehow translates the way thoughts drift away and suddenly switch topics when one is running. At least during low-intensity practice, when I often realise I have been running for minutes without paying any attention to my route. Or when I cannot recall what I was thinking about for the past minutes. During races, the mind concentration is at a different level, first focussing on keeping the right pace, refraining from the deadly rush during the first km, then trying to merge with the right batch of runners, then fighting wind, slope, and eventually fatigue. While the book includes more general autobiographical entries than those related with Murakami’s runner’s life, there are many points most long-distance runners would relate with. From the righteous  feeling of sticking to a strict training and diet, to the almost present depression catching us in the final kms of a race, to the very flimsy balance between under-training and over-training, to the strangely accurate control over one’s pace at the end of a training season, and, for us old runners, to the irremediable decline in one’s performances as years pass by… On a more personal basis, I also shared the pain of hitting one of the slopes in Central Park and the lack of nice long route along Boston’s Charles river. And shared the special pleasure of running near a river or seafront (which is completely uncorrelated with the fact it is flat, I believe!) Overall, what I think this book demonstrates is that there is no rational reason to run, which makes the title more than a parody, as fighting weight, age, health problems, depression, &tc. and seeking solitude, quiet, exhaustion, challenge, performances, zen, &tc. are only partial explanations. Maybe the reason stated in the book that I can relate the most with is this feeling of having an orderly structure one entirely controls (provided the body does not rebel!) at least once a day.  Thus, I am not certain the book appeals to non-runners. And contrary to some reviews of the book, it certainly is not a training manual for novice runners. (Murakami clearly is a strong runner so some of his training practice could be harmful to weaker runners…)

Dance Dance Dance

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , on November 25, 2012 by xi'an

In the (rather nice) bookstore in Changi Aiport, I came across this book by Murakami, “Dance Dance Dance”, and got hooked by the cover catchphrase: “If Raymond Chandler had lived long enough to see Blade Runner, he might have written something like Dance Dance Dance“. And the (UK) cover looked great too. (This was also a good opportunity to get rid of my remaining Aussie coins!)

I am not a major fan of Murakami as I find his stories rather uneven and his semi-fantastic undertone sometimes completely alien: e.g., I loved the short stories in after the quake and Kafka on the Shore was a great novel. On the other hand, the first volume of 1Q84 convinced me not to look any further in the series. This novel alas belongs to the second category of books I do not like so much: for one thing, the catchphrase above is just completely inappropriate! This is not a hard-boiled detective story: there are murders, for sure, but the main character is not hard in any sense and the murders are possibly solved by psychics and ghosts. There is no dark technocratic future à la Blade Runner either, only a lingering past that remains hidden behind the daily normality as an harmless ghost. (I do not know the author of the catchphrase but I hope (s)he gets fired from The Observer) The characters in Dance Dance Dance are caricaturesque, even when they have some real depth, like the main character (whose name is never given), and it is difficult to fathom what his motivations are, as he gets carried like flotsam along the various currents of the novel. There is no conclusion to the story: some characters vanish and the main character finds some (short-term) love achievement with an hotel clerk he has been wooing the whole time. The book is not altogether unpleasant, it is well-written with a kind of counter-pace, however the psychological quandary of the main character is simply too complete to stand!

Reading list

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2011 by xi'an

Being on a boat for a week means a lot of spare time for reading. Here are the books I read last week.

Kafka on the shore, a long allegorical and fantastic novel by Haruki Marukami. Here is a pretty good review from the New York Times. The book is indeed obscure and confusing, with unexpected forays of the supernatural, but I liked it very much nonetheless. The Oedipus story of the boy in search of his mother is gripping, although I missed some of the Greek (and all of the Japanese) mythology references. Puzzling, at times perturbing, a major novel.

Market forces is the fourth novel of Richard Morgan that I have read. It is much less successful than the three other ones constituting the Takeshi Kovacs cycle, telling the story of a corporate Mad Max like universe where road duels are legal and where mercenary companies are controlling wars all over the World. Some psychological aspects of the story are interesting, like the conflict between the main character and his relatives, however the whole universe is not credible and there are too many deus ex machina occurences. I do not think I would have finished Market forces elsewhere than on a boat! (I am still looking forward the fantasy novel Richard Morgan wrote…)

The winner in the series is certainly The lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. I loved the book and read it in less than twenty four hours! It is a sort of fantasy Ocean’s Eleven, following my son’s description of the book (he also read the book, right after Best served cold), setting a clever con artist in a Venezia-like city and following his team through increasingly complex schemes until all falls apart. The dialogues are quite funny, the setting is completely convincing, and the background plot unravels superbly. I am clearly looking forward the second volume in the series. Red seas under red skies. (The following volumes are in the coming, apparently due to an on-going depression of the author…) One highly critical review of  The lies of Locke Lamora on Strange Horizons Reviews induced a lot of flak: I however think the reviewer makes the right point when she states that “Lamora [the character] is not very interesting”. It is true that the book somehow lacks an in depth psychological analysis of the characters, incl. Locke Lamora. Nonetheless, it makes for “an enjoyable summer novel—not much depth, but a whole heck of a lot of fun” (to steal from the review out of context!).

After the quake

Posted in Books, Running with tags , , , , , on April 21, 2011 by xi'an

Another book I read during my trip to Bristol is Murakami’s After the Quake. I was pointed out to it thanks to a column in Le Monde that appeared after last month earthquake. After the Quake takes place after the 1995 Kôbe’s earthquake.  It is a collection of independent short stories. The final short story, Honey Pie, was first published in The New Yorker and is uniquely and outwordly beautiful. If very remotely connected to the eathquake. Landscape with Flatiron is another beautiful and subtle story about the meaning of life and the mesmerizing quality of beach bonfires. Three other short stories contain some supernatural elements, a bit in the spirit of  the fantastic Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. And maybe harder to apprehend, even though Thailand is very moving too. This was my first collection of short stories by Murakami, even though I had planned to read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for quite a while…. (Ironically, Murakami got the Akutagawa prize in 1976, named after the author of Rashômon, and mentions it as well for a self-portrait writer in Honey Pie.)