Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Crossing the great divide

Two quotes, from Haruki Murakami’s wonderful novel Dance Dance Dance:

“I used to think the years would go by in order, that you get older one year at a time,” said Gotanda, peering into my face. “But it’s not like that at all. It happens overnight.”
Humans achieve their peak in different ways. But whoever you are, once you’re over the summit, it’s downhill all the way. Nothing anyone can do about it. And the worst of it is, you never know where that peak is. You think you’re still going strong, when suddenly you’ve crossed the great divide. No one can tell. Some people peak at twelve, then lead rather uneventful lives from then on. Some carry on until they die; some die at their peak. Poets and composers have lived like furies, pushing themselves to such a pitch they’re gone by thirty. Then there are those like Picasso, who keep breaking ground till well past eighty.
Dance Dance Dance is the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, though you don’t really need to read that one first; like all of Murakami’s work, this book is self-sustained. Am not reviewing it here (partly because no time, partly because reviewing Murakami is always a scary prospect; writing a structured review somehow feels like you’re being false to the author and what he stands for), but treat this as a strong recommendation. He's one of the world’s truly great writers in my always-humble opinion, and this book isn’t a bad place to start if you haven’t read him before. Norwegian Wood (which I blogged about here) is still the most accessible of his novels, but Dance Dance Dance comes a close second; it isn’t as dense as Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (which I also love) or as long and attention-demanding as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, or as esoteric as A Wild Sheep Chase gets in places.

e other reviews of Dance Dance Dance here.


  1. Never read any of his stuff! But I loved the quotes. Is his book full of them? (cos I cant help feeling that when there's too much good stuff in a book it becomes like a German chocolate cake and you become sickeningly full by the time you're a quarter way through it and then nothing goes in anymore, I'm not going to say nething about what comes out:).

  2. Jai,

    Have you read "South of the Border, West of the Sun" ( I hope I got the title right)? I loved that one too. But will check out Dance, Dance..has been on my list..

  3. Revealed: no, mercifully the book isn't full of such quotes, otherwise it might have become a Paulo Coelho! Even these quotes are fairly direct by Murakami's standards - he's usually much more allusive.

    Venkat: no, that's the only novel of his that I haven't read. Will soon.

  4. A dissenting opinion here: I don't really like his style. I read Norwegian Wood, and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I loved both the strangeness, and the touching innocence of his leading characters. And yes, I love digressive plots. He's a decent writer. Norwegian Wood was better than Wind-Up Bird.

    But I read Nabokov (Pnin) right after Wind Up Bird and I felt like: Good God! There's writing, and then there's *writing.*

    There's really something to be said for literature that doesn't sound (in terms of the diction) like it was written by your average Japanese salary-man. Not that it's Murakami's too simple (after all, I like Coetzee, and I like Orwell, neither of whom is linguistically elaborate) but that he is too fond of cliche.

  5. ...he is too fond of cliche

    Oh, complete disagreement with that - I think he's one of the least cliched writers around. He might say things that seem blindingly obvious after you've read them and mulled on them for a bit, but very few writers (Critspeak Alert) cut straight to the heart of the human condition like he does. Also, no one else links the fantastic with the mundane in quite the same way (Philip K Dick maybe?).

    (Phew! Need a long shower after writing all that.)

    P.S. didn't understand the "average Japanese-salary man" sentence. You can put just about anything in the blank after the words "There's really something to be said for literature that doesn't sound like _______"

  6. No arguing over taste. Or, as some would have it, it's the only thing worth arguing about.

    Anyway, what I'm driving at is that I wish I liked Murakami more, but I don't. The best I can say about him is that he's unique.

    Cheers, Jai. Hope I haven't taken too combative a tone on your blog.

  7. Oh no, there was nothing combative about this at all (you should see some of the comments on my earlier posts!). Dissent is one of life's great pleasures, as long as it doesn't get all personal and turn into a sludgefest. In fact, the reason I replied on a slightly defensive note is because I get protective about this author...

  8. I read South of the Border West of the Sun recently, and would recommend it anyone who's looking to start off on Murakami. It's one of the most delicious love stories I've ever read. At once complicated and messy and simple and straightforward.

  9. Continuing my foray into Japanese authors (which started with Ishiguro, after reading one of your posts), I just finished 'Hard boiled wonderland...', my 3rd Murakami in the last three weeks.

    I don't if it is a good or a bad thing, reading so many of his books in such a short span of time, but I am definitely in awe of this man. I have not been able to get my hands on any half decent review of Haruki's books and it angers me. Kafka on the shore, Dance Dance Dance, and now Wonderland, these books have so much that they leave unsaid and unsolved, that it hurts my brain to even think about them. Delicate, firm-but-unsure characters and story lines, and amazing visual imagery are the hallmarks of this writer. I can't help but draw a line of comparison, or maybe similarity, between Ishiguro and Murakami, even though their styles are poles apart. Both write about loss, and both seem to be yearning for nostalgia. Its as if both are afraid of even losing the right to get pleasantly nostalgic about their lives. The prospect of living without a past seems to be a running theme.

    I wish you would write a dedicated article about Haruki, considering that I could not find any such thing on the internet. I can imagine what you mean when you say it would be a disservice to the author, yet I am sure you will be able to grasp the finer nuances well enough.

    I don't have any other space or audience to rant out what I feel, hence disgorging it all out here.

    I am thinking of picking up 'The wind up bird chronicle' next. Thom Yorke, the guy who heads Radiohead, said he was reading this book when he was making 'Hail to the thief'.