The name Haruki Murakami is as recognizable of a name in the literary world as J.K. Rowling. A masterful writer of the most obscure but also fascinating prose, he has a large following of readers not only in his native Japan, but also all over the world.
With many of his works having been translated in many other languages, it only seemed like right timing to bring about two particular works of his that have been out of print for over 30 years. These works are really quite special, for they are Murakami’s first two books; “Hear the Wind Sing” and “Pinball, 1973”. They were published together as “Wind/Pinball,” which was released back on August 4th.
These two books, along with “A Wild Sheep Chase,” make up what is known as “The Trilogy of the Rat.” We follow the adventures of the unnamed narrator from “A Wild Sheep Chase” (as well as “Dance, Dance, Dance”), along with his friendship with the Rat, and the ramblings of ongoing loneliness and more than odd obsessions that consumes his day-to-day thoughts. “Wind” follows his time visiting home while on summer break from university, whereas “Pinball” takes place a few years later, where he works as a freelance translator and is on a mission to find a very particular pinball machine.
There has been an evident hype building up to the release of these two early works of Murakami; perhaps almost as prominent as the hype leading up to the release of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” last month. I’ve heard of many positive reviews prior to reading the book myself, which is why when concluding it this morning, I was unfortunately met with disappointment.
“Wind” doesn’t really have a plot, as it switches between the narrator’s ongoing mental ramblings, along with late night meet-ups with the Rat at the local bar and his developing relationship with a mysterious girl. It therefore made it hard to follow due to its lacking structure.
There was more of a story to follow in “Pinball” but by only so much, as we follow the narrator and his interactions with his mysterious, out-of-the-blue roommates, along with his (eventual) determination to find a pinball machine he got a six-figure score on. His narrative intertwines with his retelling of the Rat, as he goes about his life back in their hometown.
Both were really random and sporadically all over the place. There wasn’t really a lot of story to tell and that’s what made it difficult to follow along. While one may say that this was Murakami at its finest, I would have to beg to differ. These were definitely not his strongest works, and knowing that these were his first two books, that would make sense then.
But the good news is that a lot of the elements that can be found in his later works are present in these two early ones; the subject of loneliness, reading as a favorable pastime, and mysterious activity taking place (and often without an explanation for them). Not to mention that the “Pinball” novella makes head nods that an adamant Murakami fan could easily spot from later appearances in his books; such as the fate of the narrator’s former schoolmate Naoko (possibly being the same Naoko from “Norwegian Wood”), as well as advice J the barkeeper gives to the Rat that can later be found in “After Dark.”
Overall, “Wind/Pinball” evidently shows a voice-in-the-making, and this is both a positive as well as a negative. It’s a positive for what would later become of Murakami’s literary works, but a negative in terms of the relatively weak content of these first two works by him.