BOOK FESTIVAL – Haruki Murakami

“I just wanted to be a quiet person and live a quiet life.”

Enigmatic and revered novelist Haruki Murakami is – with the seldom-needed assistance of a translator – in conversation with the Guardian’s John Mullan, discussing his ambition as a young man and his similarities with some of the protagonists in his books. “It’s not so quiet anymore!”

Discussing the the protagonist of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the book which this Guardian Book Club event at the Edinburgh Book Festival focuses on, Murakami claims Toru Okadu is “my hero; not negative, just modest.”

Published 20 years ago, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is – like many of Murakami’s works – written in the first-person. Though the author’s own identification with his protagonist may in part be a reason for that narrative choice, Murakami favours the style, describing how he “wanted to stand on the same level as my characters”, and how, when he tried writing third-person, it felt “uncomfortable, like looking down from above.”

Murakami’s novels also often feature several other storylines and sub-plots, which the author describes as needing in order to stop getting bored during the two years it often takes to complete a book. “I have to open up the window and get fresh air,” he says. “To write another line of story to entertain myself.” Sometimes, these episodes contain scenes of sex and violence, things which – like the skinning scene in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – he doesn’t particularly enjoy. “I was so scared when I was writing it,” he admits. “Sometimes violence stimulates the story – I have to write these things for the story’s sake.”

In line with his previous comments about the desire for a quiet life, Murakami on the whole enjoys the writing process, appreciating the solitude it offers. “It’s fun to write a novel,” he says. “Silence, isolation – wonderful! Whilst I write, I am blank.”

His imaginative plots often contain coincidences, giving rise to question about whether he plans his novels before starting to write. “I don’t have any idea when I start writing,” he answers. “I have so many coincidences in my real life. I like to be spontaneous. My imagination is a kind of an animal.”

Murakami also responds to question about music in his novels, explaining how he needs “music behind me” as he writes. He also discusses the translated versions of his books, claiming that – whilst they are accurate – he has often forgotten the plot by the time he receives the English version. “It’s fun to read,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next!”

Answering a question on spiritual aspects of his books, Murakami is typically enigmatic. “In the world I’m in when I’m writing fiction, these things just happen to me. I don’t care at all if it’s supernatural or natural.”

Then, when asked about his own spiritual beliefs, the author smiles before giving a reassuring response. “I’m not ready yet to die,” he says.

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