Lonely Metal Souls

Theo Tait

Haruki Murakami’s translator, Philip Gabriel, describes him as a ‘one-man revolution in Japanese fictional style’. His early novels and short stories of the 1980s – playful, wry, experimental, saturated in references to Western culture – made him the spiritual cheerleader of a new generation of writers. They rejected the prevailing naturalism of ‘pure literature’ (junbungaku), escaped from its circumscribed frame of reference, and used syntax closer to translated forms than to the nuanced, elliptical style of traditional literary language. A Wild Sheep Chase (1982) spells out its revolutionary credentials in the very first chapter. The hero – whose style of narration and worldview are clearly based on Philip Marlowe, and who is about to embark on a labyrinthine quest for a sheep with supernatural powers – remembers an afternoon spent with a lover during his student days. While munching hot dogs, they noticed that Yukio Mishima’s picture kept flashing up on the lounge TV. ‘The volume control was broken so we could hardly make out what was being said, but it didn’t matter to us one way or the other.’ Unimpressed, they disappear for another bout of casual, ‘unremarkable’ sex. As the chronology makes clear, the media event they had not quite witnessed was the death of Japan’s outstanding postwar novelist, who had disembowelled himself in public. In Murakami’s fictional world, this last gasp of the emperor-obsessed samurai spirit registers as an Andy Warhol moment – depthless, barely penetrating the rock and roll soundtrack.

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Reviewed in the LRB by Ian Hacking (19 October).

[*] Reviewed in the LRB by Ian Hacking (19 October).