You can’t say I don’t try. Though I know my literary heartland lies in the shortlists of the major prize nominees spattered with easy reads, for the sake of widening my mind and giving you, my fair readers, some variety, I sometimes foray off that happy path. I’ve shared with you non-fiction; autobiography; but now for me comes the furthest stray of all: post-modernist fiction. Fiction which denies all of the things you like about fiction, just to be difficult. Books with an agenda, but not one you could ever really work out, and which the novelist doesn’t know either. Books where the writer gets away with the uncomfortable fact that they have no idea what they’re saying through layers of vague learned allusion and the studied avoidance of resolution, all with the underlying implication this approach is superior. Typically, in this self-reflexive word, it’s esoteric: a word which enacts its own definition.
A few posts ago, “Honeymoon Reading,” I shared with you the story of this book being recommended to me – in such a way that the alarm bells should have started ringing. A mystical director peering through the gloom in a warehouse during a shoot telling me how deeply this book affected his life. Already guilty at not having sampled Murakami, I dutifully purchased and got stuck in. The first half was surprisingly enjoyable; clearly written despite the strange events it was relating, managing through story and language to communicate a strange sense of disconnection from the modern world. The disconnection of our protagonist, who becomes increasingly isolated towards the centre of the novel, slowly grows until you find him in a strange world where the line between reality, dream, spirit world and imagination is totally lost. There’s no sense of true or false, and this ebbing of modern normal life is intriguing and strangely soothing, as if Murakami’s carting you off on this journey without you noticing.
Half way through, fatigue hits. By now you’ve read enough to know that Murakami is never going to reveal exactly what’s going on at the end of the book – at best we’ll get (and do get) a partial sense of a stage closed with a snowdrift of unanswered questions banked up on either side of the back cover. Things start getting weirder, and yet MORE esoteric. No doubt wrongly, nothing makes me care less than a mystery I know I won’t be able to solve. Just give me one of those “There’s a donkey dead on its back in the corner of a cricket pavilion. Beside it is an ice lolly and a rapier. How did it die?” and I’m slumped on the floor snoring and drooling out of the side of my mouth. Unfortunately, the second half of the book was the literary equivalent of that attractive phenomenon – a drag through increasingly unrelatable and bizarre events, becoming more disconnected rather than drawing together. Having said this, the ending does offer greater closure than I expected, and even a slight degree of explanation – but still enough that you can completely construct large parts of the plot and the meaning behind the story for yourself. No doubt, there’s something crushing about an author who frog-marches you to their hobby-horse conclusion, and something magical about the delicacy of touch which leaves you asking questions way after the end of the book and even considering things in a new light as you’re forced to engage your mind. But this much mysticism evaporates to nothingness – leaving a novel as hollow as its protagonist.