The books interview: his surreal narratives are read by millions but the Japanese novelist is bemused by his celebrity. The eternal Nobel favourite discloses why his books appeal in times of chaos
The day before we gratify in Manhattan, a woman stopped Haruki Murakami in Central Park, where he had come for his late-morning run. “Excuse me,” she said,” but aren’t you a very famous Japanese novelist ?” A faintly odd style of putting the question, but Murakami responded in his usual equable way.” I said’ No, really I’m just a novelist. But still, it’s nice to meet you !’ And then we shook hands. When people stop me like that, I feel very strange, because I’m just an ordinary guy. I don’t really understand why people want to meet me .”
It would be a mistake to interpret this as false modesty, but equally incorrect to see it as genuine discomfort with renown: so far as it’s possible to tell, the 69 -year-old Murakami neither enjoys nor disfavors his global celebrity. His outlook, instead, is that of a curious if slightly bemused spectator- both of the surreal narratives that originating from his subconscious, and of the fact that they are devoured by readers in their millions, in Japanese and in translation. It’s surely no coincidence that the typical Murakami protagonist is a similarly detached observer: a placid, socially withdrawn and often nameless man in his mid-3 0s, who seems more intrigued than alarmed when an inexplicable telephone calls, or the search for a lost cat, leads him into a dreamlike parallel world inhabited by exploding dogs, men in sheep costumes, enigmatic teenage girls and people with no faces.
Murakami has a theory that this mesmerising literary formula appeals particularly in times of political chaos.” I was so popular in the 1990 s in Russia, at the time they were changing from the Soviet Union- there was big confusion, and people in confusion like my volumes ,” he explains, sipping water in a conference room at the offices of his American literary agency.” In Germany, when the Berlin Wall fell down, there was confusion- and people liked my books .” If that’s right, Donald Trump’s America and Brexit Britain should prove especially fertile marketplaces for his 14 th novel, Killing Commendatore , a 674 -page dose of high Murakami weirdness, translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen and published in the UK on 9 October.
Trying to summarise his plots is a mug’s game, but it may suffice to note that the book’s anonymous narrator is a disconsolate portrait painter, recently abandoned by his wife, whose attempt to get away from it all in the mountains of eastern Japan turns into an elaborated adventure involving a mysterious technology entrepreneur, a buzzer that rings spontaneously in the night, an underground shrine- wells and other subterranean chambers, together with lost cats, are a Murakami trademark- and a strikingly chatty two-foot-high samurai soldier who springs from the canvas of a painting the narrator detects in an attic.( For the author, a devotee of the fiction of F Scott Fitzgerald since his teens, these ingredients combine to constitute” a homage to The Great Gatsby “- a claim that grows somewhat less improbable as the new fiction proceeds .)