Friday, June 17, 2011

This Is A Novel About Pinball???

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
pinball 1973
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. )


Bellezza said...

I paid an absolutely embarrassingly huge amount for this little book on eBay when it had not been re-released in
English yet. I have heard tell that Haruki did not want Hear The Wind Sing to be dispersed far and wide as he wrote it for instructing English Language seemed Pinball 1973 would fade into obscurity, so I bought it in 2007 or so. Then it pops up again last year for reasonable prices, at least that is what I hope you paid for your copy.

I loved this line in your post: "the book is more a mood than a complete tale." I find that applicable to many of the Murakami books I've read. The Japanese seem very intent on giving us almost a 'slice of life' instead of a beginning and an end to a story. I've come to appreciate that, though.

I read A Wild Sheep Chase, and Dance Dance Dance, but I have yet to read the first two of that trilogy (with the later being considered an addendum to it). I really want to read Pinball, and then I can discuss it more lucidly with you. Although, I'm half afraid to take it out of its wrapper. ;)

Em said...

This sounds very strange. i'm curious about it, but I think I should read other of Murakami's works before.
At the moment I'm reading Norwegian Wood. It's good and I'm really enjoying it, but it's not the same revelation as After Dark was...

Unknown said...

You really need to read 'Hear the Wind Sing' as it sets the scene for a lot of things in this book - the relationship between the Rat and Boku (or 'Toru' as I christened him in my reviews!), the reasons for their withdrawn natures and Murakami's musings on things such as women, wells and... well, cats ;)

Both of them are easily accessible on e-Bay now for between US$10-20, so if (like me) you're building a Murakami library, there's no excuse :)

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

How fascinating and peculiar! I have read a little Murakami but this title is completely new to me. I find it especially interesting that your ILL book came by way of the US --hard to believe it couldn't be found in English in the British isles, no?

Rise said...

Hear the Wind Sing is just as cute. And also just as lightweight considering the latter books, though I like Pinball more. The scene with the pinballs is great.

Anonymous said...

As I like anything Murakami, I was very pleased when Chinoiseries leant me her copy of Hear the Wind Sing. But I didn't like it much. I have no interest in reading Pinball now.

Such a pity! I love Wild Sheep Chase, which I think is my favorite Murakami novel.

Madeleine said...

Hi :)
Thank-you for visiting my blog. I did a little research on "PINBALL1973" and found a resonantly priced copy on amazon:

Hope this helps anyone who might want to read this novel. I have not as of yet

A nice Sunday to you

@parridhlantern said...

Ciao Bellezza,it was, in fact my copy was one of those ones, complete with translation notes. Will love to hear your opinion on this.

Hi EM, It's a great little book, that points the way to his later work, so is worth a go.

Hi Judith, If you've read everything, you might as well complete the collection & read this, also it's a great stopgap until IQ84.

Hi Tony, My aim is to purchase it at some point now the library can't get it for me.

HI, As the Crowe Flies and Reads, can get it on Ebay, but my library appears to have no copies at all, have found the same problem with his first book.

Hello Rise, yes did enjoy that scene, although I think I'd have had a play myself.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Madeleine & Thanks for the visit & The information.

Anonymous said...

Just got copies of both Hear the Wind Sing + Pinball 1973 so I'll come back to compare notes once I'm done. My favourite Murakami novel is still Norwegian Wood closely followed by The Wind-up Bird Chronicle though!

Anonymous said...

Great review. I have this one lined up for reading after I finish Pandaemonium. I find that mood is critical in almost all of Murakami's work. I remember after reading The Wind Up Bird Chronicles how I thought "I have no idea what I just read, but I sure feel it." That's what's so great about his writing. I'm looking forward to this one.

Tom C said...

Gosh, that's an esoteric bit of fiction there. - Amazing that you were able to get it on such a long distance Inter library loan - I didn't realise they worked so well.

This sounds like a collector's item - what a shame you can't keep it

@parridhlantern said...

Hi chasingbawa, will be interested to hear what you make of this little book.

Hi Pete, Yes you're right about Murakami & mood but it's even more prevalent in this one, very little happens.

HI Tom, the ILL is fantastic, at sourcing books, although not always successful

gina said...

Your notes as well as Bellezza's comments are making me more aware of the Haruki Murakami-shaped hole in my list of books read. Must remedy soon, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I must admit I hadn't heard of this one before, it sounds kind of strange and intriguing. How does it compare to Wild Sheep Chase? It's the only one of the trio I've read and it wasn't my favourite Murakami

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Gina, Yes jump in and grab a book, a good place to start is one of the short story collection.

Hello Lucy,Personally Wild Sheep Chase was better, had more of a story to it, but I've been told to get the whole deal you need to read the first one - Hear the wind sing.

Gnoe (@graasland) said...

LOL I made a pic of the book without the flap too to go with my review (which I haven't gotten around to writing yet..)!

I want to keep a fresh mind -- and I'm busy hopping along the literary giveaway blogs anyway, so bookmarking your post for a later date!