Book Festival: Haruki Murakami
harukai murakami

Edinburgh International Book Festival blog: Heather McDaid reports on the event featuring Japanese literary star Haruki Murakami

harukai murakami
[Picture: Getty]

It speaks volumes that Book Festival director Nick Barley comes on to introduce this event, dubbing it the probable highlight of his career with the festival. Such is the reputation of Haruki Murakami.

The event is dedicated to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, starting with a tale from John Mullan, who yesterday bought a coffee in London; the server pointed at his book, gasping “Murakami!” and proclaimed that she loved him. It’s life imitating Murakami, he laughs, a world of coincidences.

The book is written in his preferred first person narrative. “I tried a couple of times to use third person, but every time I felt uncomfortable,” explains Murakami. “I was looking down, but I wanted to stand on the same level as my characters.”

Talk turns to Toru Okada, the book’s lead character, and his negative self-view. He fears a woman he’s meeting won’t recognise him because he has no distinguishing features. “He says that?” he laughs, beginning a common theme of the show. “I don’t think he’s negative or passive. He’s just modest, quiet and reserved. He can be stubborn if need be, but won’t talk big.”

It becomes apparent over the hour that Murakami is not one to obsess over past work, often forgetting specifics dedicated fans refer to, but he entertains and amuses the audience nonetheless.

Something as simple as Okada’s day was just a repetition of what he himself was doing. “I like ironing,” he says. “I iron everything.” He also made spaghetti, was interrupted by a phone call, and so on.

Many questions that spiral from people who have studied the books are met with simple answers of it being unintentional or unplanned. Sub-stories have no specific meaning per se. “When I write a novel it takes a year or two, to write one same story and I get tired of it. I write another line of a story to entertain myself,” he explains, hoping the readers share that enjoyment.

The recurring theme of wells comes up, from the symbolism, to Murakami almost becoming a past character of his through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. “It’s my lifetime dream to sit at the bottom of a well,” he says simply. But, why? “I don’t know. When I was writing that part I was super happy. My imagination was vivid, strong, realistic. I was really happy.”

The free flow of his writing means that he never plans plot, finding that “if you know the conclusion, it’s not fun to write. I like to be spontaneous.”

Even then, many of his endings don’t necessarily feel conclusive. “I have that sense of unfinished,” he notes. “All my books are finished, but have that sense of unfinished. That’s what I want.”

And one final question: why does Malta wear a red vinyl hat? “There must have been some reason,” he explains. “That’s a very good creation, but I don’t remember.” In typical Murakami fashion, the event ends with enigma.

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