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The Murakami Landscape; Your Inner Clown

April 1, 2011 | by

Dear Mr. Stein,
I recently got back from Germany, where they’ve had Haruki Murakami’s
1Q84 for months. After reading it (and already having read most of his other works several times), I’m interested in finding books by other authors that will create the odd, developed mental landscapes I experience when reading his. Do you have any suggestions?

Greg Smith

We are Murakami fans, too. In fact his name came up several times this week at the office. One Paris Review contributor wrote in, comparing The Third Reich to Murakami’s work, suggesting that Bolaño and Murakami share “a reverence for mystery, the sense of another realm.” It is also a kind of stagey reticence. Murakami and Bolaño both dare you to think they’re full of shit, and are not. They are magisterial. You see a similar quality in a David Lynch movie like Inland Empire, where Lynch shows you all the guy wires and indulges one extravagance after another, and you still believe. All of which is to say, Greg, you would do well to subscribe. Bolaño aside, there are stories in our next issue by Jonathan Lethem and Amie Barrodale that I think will appeal especially to you.

And if you like those, I suggest Bolaño’s second-most Murakamian novel, 2666, and the complete works of Don DeLillo.

I’m just a misunderstood poet here in the middle of California. The Paris Review has rejected me twice, and I feel lazy about getting the third. Why is it so hard to get poetry and, well, anything else published? Does that mean that many of us are bad writers? Amateur clowns imitating W. B. Yeats, Kafka, Frank O’Hara, et cetera? Who should I be if I am nothing right now? Will I be somebody if I get published? Jorge

As a young editor, Robert Giroux once asked T. S. Eliot whether all editors were not failed poets. “All poets are failed poets,” said Eliot. And he was Eliot. To have your work published is nice, of course, but in my experience it takes more than a story or poem to make a nobody feel like a somebody. The world is full of published writers who suspect they’re amateur clowns. And those are the good ones! My advice? Be kind to your inner clown.

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  1. ct | April 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    More recommendations in response to Mr. Smith: To me it seems like Murakami, Bolano, and DeLillo each have a talent for taking seemingly familiar forms (detective stories, science fiction, paranoia, a conversational sort of language) into unexpected places. But what makes Murakami unique among the three, I think, is that it seems like he is somewhat unaware of his own strangeness, that it is genuine, or is something he cannot quite understand. Reading his books one is never sure if what he is doing is a dare, or even intentional, and for this reason (to me at least) his books exciting in a way that is beyond my comprehension. By contrast, Javier Marias’ books are strange in a different, more self-conscious kind of way.

    Other writers of unintentional strangeness are like Gogol, especially in his shorter pieces, and Adalbert Stifter and Robert Walser. Valery and Kafka are probably the most aware of their own abilities, but that does not mean they are in control.

  2. J. X. Coudrille | April 2, 2011 at 4:31 am

    All writing creates and involves the reader, via the act of reading, in a parallel world. Sometimes this is indistinguishable from the one we actually inhabit, sometimes so far and unfamiliar as to alter our view of the waking world when we put the book down and return to our own reality. The extent to which it – and all art – does this is a fair measure of the art and, the mastery of the Artist. JXC Cornwall 2011

  3. Veronica | April 2, 2011 at 10:55 am

    I just thought ‘be kind to your inner clown’ was poetry in itself.
    (said by a poet who has experienced rejection once in a while)

  4. Veronica | April 2, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Also, you sold me on Bolaño. A filmmaker I am working with just recommended him (we are both convinced Murakamians) but your words just sold me. Getting 2666 today!

  5. Barry | April 2, 2011 at 11:19 am

    I would also like to add David Mitchell – who I am came across while reading Matthew Carl Stretcher’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Reader’s Guide” – He is excellent and has quite a bit of body of work that never ceases to deliver.

  6. D. A. Stafford | April 2, 2011 at 11:58 am

    I loaned a friend of mine Kafka on the Shore, and she had never heard of Murakami, so I knew I could get an unbiased opinion from her. She basically summed it up as, “It was like reading a thriller where I had no idea, no clue, of what was going to happen next.”

  7. Jeannine Hall Gailey | April 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Some writers that remind me a bit of Murakami:
    –Kelly Link’s book, Stranger Things Happen. Confident narrators, really odd things happening in the background.
    –Not exactly in the same mode, but Osamu Dazai’s Blue Bamboo: Japanese Tales of Fantasy is a gorgeous read, and has some of the same tonal things – self-aware humor, a willingness to jump into strangeness – that Murakami has.

  8. LeRoy Little | April 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Do not forget the forgettable Kobo Abe–the precursor to “mental landscapes.” Think Japanese Kafka who wrote some eerie and great novels like The Box Man, The Woman in the Dunes, and Inter Ice Age 4. (It seems to me that this post is not so much a suggestion as a sale…as usual.)

  9. panayotis ioannidis | April 6, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    splendid! [x2]

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