I’ve said before that I could never tell if Murakami, with all his meticulously cataloged insight into people, was just fucking with us as he wrote each of his dull and unflinching, non-plussed heroes into some diamond-studded corner of miracles to let amazing experiences wash over them without blessing them with a single iota of an outlook-bending epiphany of self-awareness before eventually killing them. My struggle with Murakami has always been over that: Does he champion an insidious point, or is he winking and laughing as he plays the infidel, dishing up his perfectly socialized characters inured to their impossible fates by boredom in order to injure our own sense of order? Is the meat of his insight served not from the charming, off-beat magic of his fantasy worlds, but instead from the infuriating repetition of menu items, sandwich contents, beverage counts, technical recountings of deeds done and only thought about as weird fate closes in on a character not so much hapless, but wholly unmotivated to question or attempt to thwart his or her own end?
Well, I had given Murkami up for a fantastic nihilist, one whose charming descriptions of horrible fates wholly unavoided in some way advocated complacency. That was the conclusion I had come to even though it was thinking on his books that first brought to my mind the concept of didactic wrongdoing.
I’m still not sure exactly where he stands, but I am about 14 chapters into Kafka on the Shore now, and he’s addressed this question more or less head-on. The main character, Kafka Tamura, is discussing his opinion of Soseki Natsume’s The Miner. In discussion of the hero of that novel, Tamura complains that “…eventually, he gets out and goes back to his old life… But nothing in the novel shows he learned anything from these experiences, that his life changed, that he thought deeply now about the meaning of life or started questioning society or anything… He’s totally passive. But I think in real life people are like that.”
Aha! Murakami is, at least in some sense, aware of what he is doing! But, the second person in that conversation retorts with:
“But people need to cling to something… it’s like Goethe said: Everything’s a metaphor.”
So which one is Murakami? Is he directly confronting critics like me here and then offering a one-liner pithy rejoinder for how his characters can remain so broken-spirited and Japanese to the end, come what may: talking cats, mad science, or sado-masochism? Or perhaps the metaphor as transparent as that: this character whose lack of ambition is so grating is YOU, social man, and the story I’m telling is supposed to feel wrong. Didactic wrongdoing is such a stretch, though, and it smacks of naive hero-worship of the author who brought me Pinball, 1973 and Norwegian Wood. Murakami could just as easily be as gifted and equally stunted by the violence of his socialization as Dostoevsky, another unflinching diarist of the human soul.
In any event, my curiosity is piqued.