I was in close proximity to a hero of mine on Thursday. And as I should have expected, it wasn’t quite like I expected.
Haruki Murakami was giving his first public appearance in this country at the Prince Charles cinema. Talking about his books and, more reluctantly, about himself. It had been arranged by Waterstones & the man from Waterstones certainly knew his onions, , which was all very well, but when you are interviewing one of Japan’s foremost modern novelists there’s not much call for knowledge of onions.. which didn’t stop him trying to stuff them in any every opportunity
onions aside, it was still different to my expectations.
Haruki Murakami writes beautifully strange books. Their atmosphere is always dreamlike. Everything happens in an unreal version of the here and now.
When I read one I feel like I am alone in the VIP departure lounge at some unnamed airport waiting for a flight to a country that doesn’t exist. There are no windows, only bright unnatural lighting and the low hum of air conditioning replaces any silence. There are no people, not even any sign that they have been or will come. I am not sure how I got here and it is unlike anywhere I have ever been before. But I am comfortable, at ease in the ergonomic leather chairs. Content to remain here reading my book.
Murakami’s protagonists are similarly at ease with the unusual. Their lives change in supernatural ways and they calmly adapt. Friends and acquaintances vanish and reappear for reasons that are never clear but they are too polite to push for explanations. They find a six foot tall frog waiting in their appartment when they get home from their day at work as Assistant Chief of the lending division of the Shinjuku branch of the Tokyo Security Trust Bank and they silently accept the dangerous assignment that frog suggests.
I have always liked to believe there was a unifying philosophy behind all the disappearing elephants and the men down wells. In fact, I was so convinced of it that I lived my life by it. Admittedly, I did not know what exactly I ought to do as a Murakamian but this has never stopped me in the past. Besides, I am in plentiful company, for ignorance of the finer points of one’s adopted creed is the rule rather than the exception.
In practice, my Murakamianism consists of insisting that i will not be phased to come home a find a hippo in my bathroom (placidly eating the cabbages floating in my bath). I do ruin this zen cool but secretly hoping to find sed hippo but nonetheless I seek to be infinitely adaptable to situational weirdness.
It was in this enlightened state of mind that I went to the Prince Charles cinema to observe the living embodiment of what I took to Murakaminess. But it was a strange experience to find that Murakami’s own interpretation of his world view was that of a slightly diffident and largely mundane writer of stories.
He was extraordinarily ordinary.
A calm, polite and exceptionally young looking fifty five year old Japanese man, whose hobbies include running marathons and living on greek islands to avoid adulation at home. (At home in Japan, not at home in his house for he has been married for 30 years.) He was disarming in his descriptions of his writing process; slow to get started, he began his first book at 29 seated at his kitchen table writing it first in English then translating it back to Japanese. Now he writes everywhere and is at ease with his own style. (But unwilling to see his early work published in English.)
Ellusive about his sources of inspiration; He told us his books are autobiographical in the sense that can understand his protagonists but said no more. Indeed, there were often pauses as we waited for elaboration to his matter of fact answers, which never came, only the sterling efforts of the onion loving master of ceremonies kept things moving.
All in all, he was just another writer.
Which should be no great surprise but given my expectations, it was a strange experience indeed. Happily however, it was one that I calmly and silently accepted thus remaining true to my creed.
Indeed, it is now my creed for I see that he has no need for it.