Two linked early novels from the prolific Murakami (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, 2014, etc.).
“I learned a lot of what I know about writing from Derek Hartfield,” writes Murakami’s alter ego, who has already warned us that “writing honestly is very difficult.” Hartfield is a Murakami invention, the image of an utterly obscure writer jumping off the Empire State Building carrying a picture of Adolf Hitler and an umbrella both oddly unsettling and portentous. Though these stories—two of the so-called Rat Trilogy—are more than 40 years old, marking the very beginning of Murakami’s career, they are full of trademark turns. One is the iron spring that lies hidden in the tatami-covered floor of even the most tranquil room: the narrator lies in bed, smoking, looking at the beautiful young woman lying next to him, and what grabs his attention, unpalatably and uncharitably, is the fact that her beach-won suntan has faded and “the white patches left by her swimsuit looked almost rotten.” Another is the untrustworthiness of the narrator—and everyone else, for that matter. Elsewhere, a naked girl pads to the kitchen to make a sandwich, returning with her “cheeks stuffed with bread” just in time to catch him in a lie—but just one lie—while, still elsewhere, a girl stirs her drink with one of her nine fingers and listens to the narrator expatiate on why it is that people die, bullshitting with gusto even as he describes dissecting a cow. And if the narrator is a Murakami alter ego, is the Rat the alter ego once removed? It’s a point to ponder. There’s a Beatles record on the turntable at all times, of course, offering the possibility of peace and love and unity, but then there’s that iron trap again….
Not as well-developed as the later books, and mostly for completists. Still, it’s interesting to see hints of the masterly novels to come in these slender, pessimistic tales.