Book Review

Wind Pinball (that’s what it says on the spine) by Haruki Murakami

not a great book, not a great time (post from the winter)

20th February

I’m sat in the laundrette again.

Just realised, typing the date above, that it’s my father’s birthday, which I’d completely forgotten was coming up. I have too much, tho also not enough, on my mind.

I’m trying to plan a trip to Europe for the Spring but every time I browse flights or trains or airbnbs or hotels I just become so anxious and terrified, so utterly without hope, hit by a fear of how damaging it will be for me to leave my dull day-to-day just to return to it a fortnight later. I’m just so bored here in Toronto in the tail end of the pandemic and I’m scared of making an effort to fix or change or repair or alter anything in case it fails. 

It was only a few weeks ago that I was quoted in the New Yorker and the incredible sense of validation that temporarily gave me barely lasted the weekend.

Christ.

///

After I read The Decagon House Murders (two weeks ago? three weeks ago? (I don’t remember, it was a while ago, I’ve just been working and/or being depressed in all the hours since since)), I decided to follow it up with another book of Japanese fiction from a similar historical moment.

Is that a suspect thing to do?

I would like to say “no”, but I honestly don’t know any more.

Is any interest in cultures different to the self’s ultimately suspect? Maybe it is?

I don’t know and I’m in one of those periods where I literally don’t say a word to anyone about anything beyond the functional, so I haven’t been bouncing ideas around.

Lol, ideas.

I don’t have ideas any more, other than to take melatonin before bed so I’m able to have incredible, sinister, evocative dreams where things actually happen to me and I actually talk to people. God, I’d love to be able to have frank conversations in real life. It’s not really friends I want, just either a therapist or an audience. Eurgh, is there nothing easier?

///

I decided to read another book of late twentieth century Japanese fiction, and looking through the disgustingly unread and disgustingly ever-growing selection of books in my possession, I selected this volume by the non-thinking-person’s Nobel nominee because it was late in the evening and I knew it would be familiar and – though unlikely to be excellent – probably good enough.

It wasn’t.

This book, titled Wind Pinball on the spine, actually contains two very short novels upside down from opposite sides of the book. These are Murakami’s first two novels, written when he was young and when, presumably, the state of Japanese fiction was in utter disrepair.

These novels – Hear The Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 are both shit.

Ambientish novels about youthfulish disaffection, youngish (i.e. younger than me now, but no longer young young) men in their late twenties who don’t have much going on.

All of the characters drink a little, play pinball, go to work, chat with friends, decide to move away from where they grew up, etc, with the implication that there is an under-explored past trauma in their lives (always a tragic death (a lover or a parent)) and that their failure to engage with this trauma dooms them to an eternity of disaffection.

Of being disassociated, etc.

Of not enjoying life, of never being able to grab it with both hands.

Writing about Wind Pinball two weeks later, my memories of this pair of juvenile novellas are far more positive and flattering than the experiences I remember from the time, which probably goes some way to explaining how Murakami continues to have such an undeserved position as a “serious” writer: his books produce better memories than anything they produce being read.

Reading these two novellas, I thought their emotional descriptions were heavy-handed, that their plotting and characterisation were weak and poorly constructed, that there was nothing to enjoy, and maybe that’s the fault of Ted Goosen’s translation, but if a translator turns a book with good plotting and characterisation into one with bad plotting and characterisation, then they’re not really translating a novel, are they(?), they’re badly rewriting it in a different language, and given Murakami’s fame (and English fluency), I can’t imagine a publisher signing off on a translation that lost the essence, the nub, of the original text. So, therefore, we must presume that the novellas are as dry and mediocre as Ted Goosen renders them.

Well worth avoiding. Just like lil ol’ me. 😞

2 comments on “Wind Pinball (that’s what it says on the spine) by Haruki Murakami

  1. It’s important to remember that those were two of Murakami’s earliest writings and he knew they weren’t great, that’s why he waited decades to release then in English. If you expect someone’s first novels to be as polished as novels he writes thirty years later, you have, perhaps, an unrealistic view of how artists develop. In short, cut him some slack. It’s be interesting to see how amateurish his novellas appear next to your first pieces of long fiction.

    Like

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