Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Book Review - after the quake by Haruki Murakami

When the Kobe earthquake struck Japan in 1995, its effects extended further than the physical cracking open of the earth. Each of the characters in ‘after the quake’, live far from the epicentre of the disaster, but still feel the shock waves ricochet through their lives, setting off minute chains of events that lead them eventually back to the cracks in their own existence.

Japanese master of fiction, Haruki Murakami, here presents six short stories exploring the way in which the earth’s unidentifiable power can change all of us in the most unexpected and unconnected of ways. His writing is full of a powerful knowing that is seemingly beyond even him to express. It is as though each thread of narrative is a feather-thick inky stroke of Japanese calligraphy, unable to portray the whole, but nonetheless part of the whole, and perhaps clue to the meaning of all this human fragility in the face of the mysterious power of the environment.

The distant earthquake, witnessed by these individuals only on the television and the radio, forces them to confront an overwhelming sense of emptiness that they have carried within them for a long time. In ‘UFO in Kushiro’ an electronics salesman, Komura, comes home from work one Sunday to find his wife gone, leaving only a note saying, ‘living like you is like living with a chunk of air’. ‘Landscape with Flatiron’ explores the suicidal feelings of a young runaway and her middle-aged friend with a talent for building the perfect bonfire.

Through these beautiful small sketches exploring the gently consuming ache of life without love, Murakami defies genres by slipping with authorial ease between the romantic, the terrifying and the absurd. In a bizarre cartoon-like yarn, Katagiri, the ‘less than ordinary’ protagonist of ‘Super-Frog Saves Tokyo’, is visited by an enormous frog one evening, and coerced into doing battle against a giant subterranean earthquake-causing evil, known as Worm.

Murakami’s elusively twisting plotlines succeed in rendering his stories infectiously intriguing and endlessly strange. He gives us little detail and keeps each chapter too short to be anything more than a fleeting glance at the goings on in foreign lives. But as Murakami pulls each narrative thread from the tangle of time he sheds shards of light on ineffable truths, making his prose nothing short of magical.

No comments: