Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami.
This arrived from the USA as an inter-library loan (Trinity college library,Hartford,Connecticut), it’s the Kodansha English Library edition and is a 179 pages + translation notes, the translator is Alfred Birnbaum. The first thing I noticed is how small this book is, look at the picture and you’ll see the book is only just greater in length than the pen, this is a teeny book, perfect for your pocket.
Sometimes you listen to a piece of music and no matter how many times you listen to it, you just can’t get a hook on it. It’s as if the piece playing doesn’t exist, or exists but is not quite here, ghostlike, you feel the ambience, the drop in temperature, there’s a mood prevalent, but not much else. Pinball 1973 is such a piece. Like some of the ambient arrangements of Brian Eno, David Sylvian or one of the mellower tracks by electronics band Autechre, the book is more a mood than a complete tale.
The story itself, follows an unnamed individual, who for the sake of simplicity I shall call Boku* (I). Boku lives in Tokyo, working as a commercial translator, a business he set up with a partner. We also follow his friend the Rat, who spends the majority of his time in a bar run by a character known as J. It’s set around September – November 1973 and Boku is living with a pair of twins, who he finds so indistinguishable that they are named 208 & 209, numbers that they happened to have on their sweatshirts (which they swap), he seems to spend his time listlessly between work and home, with no apparent connection to the world about him, he even goes on a quest to track down a pinball machine that he was obsessed with a few years ago, in fact this is probably as excited as he gets, but it’s a mild excitement and when the quest is completed, he is at odds what to do next (doesn’t play the machine). At the end of the book the twins leave with no obvious reasoning why they were there, or why it was time to leave. Boku went home…..
“Everything was repeating itself, I retraced my steps by the exact same route, and sat in the apartment awash with autumn light listening to the copy of Rubber Soul the twins had left me. I brewed coffee. And the whole day through I watched that Sunday pass by my window. A tranquil November Sunday of rare clarity shining through each and everything ”
At the same time the Rat, living back in the home town, pretty much living in J’s bar having dropped out of university, embarks on a pointless, unsatisfactory relationship with some unnamed woman, although embarks implies action he more or less stumbles into it whilst drifting, watching the sea and looking for a way out, whether it’s just the town or everything he’s never sure, just spending his time contemplating as opposed to actually doing.
Boku and the Rat never meet in this book, we follow both characters via alternating chapters, as the book switches between first person descriptions of Boku’s life and the third person descriptions of the Rat’s. The overall tone of the book is sombre and pensive and little happens. It’s a book where the characters are stuck in some rut, that they are more than aware of, yet do not appear to have the energy or the inclination to climb out of. These are lives of quiet despair, where on the surface all’s going well, but if you just peel back the epidermis and you find individuals lost, with no connection to their surroundings and yet they’re intelligent, they realise there should be more to their lives, if only they could get a hook on it
“It’s like Tennessee Williams said. “The past and the present, we might say , “go like this.” The future is a maybe” Yet when we look back on the darkness that obscures the path that bought us this far, we only come up with another indefinite “maybe” The only thing we perceive with any clarity is the present moment and even that passes by”This book bridges between “Hear the Wind Sing” which I’ve not yet read and “Wild Sheep chase”, which I adore, as it’s part of a trilogy I’ve read about face it’s hard to decide how this fits into the overall scheme, I'm hoping that will be clearer when the first in this series wings it’s way to me.
Haruki Murakami Resource
*Boku – In Jay Rubin’s book “ Haruki Murakami and the music of words” He discusses the use of Boku (I) as the name for the unnamed protagonists stating that
“It is important that the word Murakami uses for “I” throughout is boku . Although the “I-novel” is a long established fixture of serious Japanese fiction, the word most commonly used for the “I” narrator has a formal tone: watakushi or watashi. Murakami chose instead the casual boku, another pronoun-like word for “I”, but an unpretentious one used primarily by young men in informal circumstances (women never use boku for “I”. In the few cases where Murakami creates a female narrator, they use the gender-neutral watashi. )”