I came to Murakami relatively recently. I’d heard the name before, but, like Margaret Atwood and numerous others, my perception of his work was that it existed on some literary plain far beyond my understanding. So it wasn’t until 1Q84 that I decided to give him a shot. And I don’t really even know why. After devouring every book I could find as a teenager, my reading habits tapered off in college. It wasn’t until 2009 that I really started to pick up the habit again. Having gone so long (better part of a decade) without reading for pleasure, I’d lost the feel for what I liked, and was more willing to branch out than I previously had been. I first tried Norwegian Wood, but it didn’t grab hold of me. When 1Q84 came out in English, I bought it….and absolutely fell in love with the ponderous oddities that he created. His slow, patient writing style and his detached men and unknowable women…there’s something about Murakami that resonates with me. His writing is like a minor key, both hauntingly different from everything else, and fascinating.
Hear the Wind Sing is Murakami’s first published work. Famously, he owned a jazz club in his twenties, and didn’t decide to become a writer until he was almost 30 years old. One day, while watching a baseball game, the idea hit him out of the blue that he could write a novel. Out of that inspiration came this novella and its follow-up, Pinball, 1973. Every night for four months, Murakami would spend one hour writing. And, in 1979, this story got published to considerable acclaim (it was nominated for Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize).
This feels more disjointed than his later novels, so it may not be as accessible, but it’s still indisputably a Murakami novel. It’s story is accented by music, there’s a meandering route taken through the character’s lives, and there is the impenetrable and aloof female who both captivates and confounds the male protagonist. And wells. Murakami is fascinated by wells.
To me – as with much of Murakami’s work – the plot is kind of hard to define, and seemingly unimportant to the experience of reading the book. Hear the Wind Sing is narrated in the first person, by an unnamed man. He is friends with the Rat (this being the first in the “Trilogy of the Rat”), hangs out at J’s Bar (J being a displanted man from China), develops an odd relationship with a young woman who works at a record store, and is on the cusp of going to university. The student movement of the late-60s (yeah, that happened in Japan, too), writing (via the fictional writer Derek Hartfield), and relationships are all explored without any grand discoveries or philosophies. Murakami novels seem to be the expression of feelings more than ideas, and those feelings are usually centered around loss and being adrift.
It’s hard for me to recommend this, because his books are so subjective. It seems that people either love getting lost in the atmosphere of his books, or don’t understand why so many adore him. I’m of the former variety, and didn’t find this book disappointing.