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Components of a Style

The pressures of fashioning a career in this publishing environment gave rise to a peculiar displacement in Murakami’s narrative world: many of his fictions actually figure the gatekeeping process. While dichotomies and oppositions may appear to be the foundation of his fiction, there are usually both a surface literary style and a thematic thread that span the duality, and usually a gatekeeping figure. We can see this first in the early “Trilogy of the Rat,” so named for a common character in Kaze, Pinball, 1973 (1980), and A Wild Sheep Chase (1982). In these works a figure called The Gatekeeper first appears. In the next phase of Murakami’s career, typified by Norwegian Wood, he moved the gatekeeper to the position of narrator. In his more recent work, such as 1Q84, gatekeeping is seen as process and production, with its own market gyroscope.14

In the “Trilogy of the Rat,” Murakami used a gender feature of Japanese, which has a polite first-person pronoun used by both sexes (watashi) and a rougher, informal, male only voice (boku).15 Murakami used these to represent a divided consciousness, reflecting his conflicting views of the 1960s. This concept of selfhood was basically Jungian, a model then widely popular.16 Such a divided-but-united self could explore his 1960s anxieties. There is, at the start, a young male protagonist who is a product of the era, when “the air was alive, even as everything seemed poised on the verge of collapse, waiting for a push.”17 He recalls how he and fellow students demonstrated, put up blockades, and fought with police. But it is now 1978, a period of boredom and disillusionment: a “curtain was creaking down on the shambles of the sixties.” The narrator embodies both sentiments, locked behind a veneer of coolness and detachment, of politeness if you will, which Murakami’s Jungian interpretation of Japan casts as the feminine watashi view. Behind it lurks boku, aggressive and masculine.18 Wild Sheep Chase’s prelude takes place on November 25, 1970, the day when Yukio Mishima disemboweled himself. In Birnbaum’s English translation, however, the dates are changed and the moment de- historicized for Western readers. Rubin tells us that Mishima’s suicide was Murakami’s figure for “ennui ... the end of his youthful idealism,” a time “in which a gap seems to open between ‘me’ and ‘myself’.”19 Unfortunately that context, like watashi/boku, the narrating device of this estrangement, is unavailable to the non-J apanese reader. Even the Japanese title (An Adventure Surrounding Sheep) was changed by Birnbaum, to Wild Sheep Chase.20 The plot is relatively unimportant for this discussion: suffice it to say that eventually boku is led to the sheep by his “unblocked” waifish girlfriend, narrative elements Murakami would still be re-using thirty years later in 1Q84.21

Murakami’s fiction built on such early, easily understood components— Jungian splits, dichotomy, the uncanny, narrative-within-narrative, coincidence, and male/female characteristics. He says that he was reading Raymond Chandler and Raymond Carver in those days, authors with a practice of re-using previously successful characters, themes, inter-textual motifs, and pop culture allusions. All of them created successful fiction brands, and Murakami may have adopted their strategy. He now downplays these early novels, writing that Kaze (1979) and Pinball, 1973 (1980) were “young-man, things-are-changing kind[s] of novel[s]” set in the “age of the counterculture.” He has said that both were “weak.” But not too weak to win the prizes, though as Murakami concedes, “you have to know there are many prizes in Japan.” Kodansha had been first to see the novel because it owned Gunzo, and Murakami explains that he went with the publisher because it was “the biggest, very prestigious.” He really had no choice, and adds apologetically, “There [were] no agents in Japan.”22

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