Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami Review

Haruki Murakami’s first novel Hear the Wind Sing is like a lot of first novels in that it’s unfocused, rambling and mostly about the author - and yet it’s kinda compelling because of how well written it is! 

There’s no story to speak of. The novel takes place within 3 weeks of the summer of 1970 where our nameless narrator in his early 20s bums around his small town. He meets a wealthy spoilt brat called The Rat who sits in a bar, reads Western novels, and spouts pseudo-intellectual nonsense. He meets a young woman with nine fingers who works in a record shop. The characters interact, a sense of youthful directionless and vague hope sorta permeates the book, and then it’s over. 

I’ve read 11 of Murakami’s books before this one and I definitely wouldn’t recommend readers curious about the author to start here - begin with Wind-Up Bird, Wild Sheep Chase or one of his short story collections like after the quake instead. But if you’re familiar with the author you’ll notice a lot of things in this first novel that he’ll go on to feature in many of his subsequent books. Music - especially jazz - cats, precise descriptions of meals, emotionally-detached people, bookworms, sad relationships with sad women, loneliness, and physically deformed characters. 

None of the characters here could be called well-rounded; they’re very one-dimensional especially the female characters - Murakami usually writes women quite poorly. More often than not they’re there as literary devices for the male characters to either learn something about the story they’re in or to learn something about themselves; it’s the latter in this book. 

However, if the narrative leaves a lot to be desired, the writing is at least very fluid, accessible, and renders the spare story with an ethereal elegance. The pages fly by and that’s a rare quality in a first novel. Besides the overall lack of characterisation, the writing annoyed me only a couple of times like when one character launches into a pages-long speech about nothing, Murakami failing to pass this off as casual conversation, and the parts where a radio DJ rambles on the air were entirely needless. The book definitely feels too slight - it’s a good example of style over substance though I can’t help but admire the stylishness! 

For a novel with no story, great characters, or memorable scenes or dialogue, I didn’t dislike Hear the Wind Sing. The writing is much better than you’d expect for a first novel and pulled me swiftly along to the end - the talent is obvious and you can see the writer he’ll become. That said, I’d say it’s really only for fans than casual readers – with this book Murakami’s clearly finding his voice and figuring out what he wants to write about which isn’t always the best place for anyone to start. Unfamiliar readers wanting to understand Murakami’s popularity would do better to check out his later, more original and enthralling efforts when he incorporates magical realism into actual stories that go somewhere.

Hear the Wind Sing

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