Friday, July 08, 2005
After the quake, a giant frog
Have been reading/rereading Murakami a lot recently (partly because I might soon be doing a column on contemporary writers; partly because his treatment of the outsider appeals to me a lot these days). Highly recommended: after the quake (he insisted the title be in lower-case in the English translation), a collection of six short stories related, mostly indirectly, to the Kobe earthquake in 1995. Many trademarks of Murakami’s writing can be found here: plenty of surrealism, deadpan humour, malcontents trying to make sense of the world and of splintered relationships (which fits in with the earthquake theme), long philosophical conversations.
Just a couple of days ago I was having a blog argument with a friend - won't reproduce it here but my stand was that fantastical/supernatural creations can be allowed to exist in "realistic" settings, amidst real people; it isn’t necessary to restrict them to their own "otherworlds". At the time I was thinking in terms of SFF literature and graphic novels, but reading after the quake reminded me that this applies to the best of surrealistic writing too. Murakami recognises that sometimes the best way to make sense of our lives is to hand them over to the fantastical, and to sit back and watch what happens. Few writers are as good at making the everyday and the phantasmagorical coexist; the shifts in perception often happen so subtly that one doesn’t even realise it - I’m not going to try to describe it (Murakami’s work usually defeats such attempts) but read his novel A Wild Sheep Chase and you’ll see what I mean. (BTW, previous post on Murakami here.)
In after the quake there is a story, "Super-frog saves Tokyo", in which a bank executive returns to his apartment to find a six-foot-tall, Dostoevsky/Nietzsche-quoting frog (called Frog) who plans to save Tokyo from an impending earthquake by going underground and battling a a huge worm (called Worm). Now you can accept this story on either literal or allegorical terms ("I am, indeed, pure Frog, but at the same time I am a thing that stands for a world of un-Frog," says Frog with studied seriousness) - but what matters is that Murakami takes absurd premises like this one and somehow weaves them into moving stories about the fragility of human relations; about people mustering the courage to face their greatest fears and trying to make sense of the shifting tectonic plates in their own lives.