Murakami and me: The wait for Haruki Murakami's UK 'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki' tour

Haruki Murakami’s new novel is the event of the year for aficionados of his outlandish tales, and they will be queuing to meet him on his UK tour. Superfan Siobhan Norton reveals why she can’t wait to be among them

As superfans go, I’d be a bit of a disappointment. I keep meaning to buy my favourite band’s latest album. Oh, and the one before that. I tell all my friends about how excited I am about a new play opening, without having the foresight to  actually buy an advance ticket. And I STILL can’t get past episode three of Breaking Bad.

So no one was as surprised as I was to find myself, a couple of weeks ago, jostling in a queue to be among the first to purchase a book. The tills were opening at midnight and it had seemed imperative that I be at them as soon as possible – this could not wait until morning. More surprising again, I find myself mulling over the benefits of camping out all night, pen in hand, for a glimpse of the author as he visits London for a book signing next week.

I hasten to mention at this point that I am not a closet Twilight fan, I do not play Dungeons and Dragons in my spare time and I am not 12. I do not know the difference between Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. And the author is not a perma-tanned reality star who has penned their seventh tell-all autobiography.

The author is Haruki Murakami, an offbeat Japanese writer who has struck an unlikely chord internationally, not least in the UK. For many years now, he has been my favourite writer, another fact that has taken me a little by surprise.

Murakami has some common themes running through his books. Jazz music, isolation, and urban ennui. Precocious teenagers, mysterious women and ear lobes. Cats, wells and alternate universes. That sort of thing. Not normally what I tend to look for in a relaxing read.

I do admit that in the past I have indulged in the odd fantasy book. I read and reread Lord of the Rings several times in my teens, drinking in the descriptions and languages of Middle Earth. I worked my way through quite a few Terry Pratchetts. I even, ahem, may have been quite the Buffy the Vampire Slayer aficionado.

But then… well, maybe I grew up. I lasted through one series of Game of Thrones before the silliness and gratuitous nudity got to me. I was bored by Harry Potter, enraged by Twilight. But, after a friend insisted that I try Murakami, I was hooked, buying two or three books at a time and greedily delving into them.

So is this just a Harry Potter for grown-ups? Well, not quite, but perhaps it is not too dissimilar. Murakami’s main characters are often loners; navel-gazers trying to live a simple, blameless life but finding themselves swept into a mystical world and almost passively going along with this new life direction.

In 1Q84, quiet bachelor Tengo doesn’t exactly fall over in shock when he learns about the existence of fairies. Apathetic Toru in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle seems to easily accept the disappearance of his cat – and wife – before retreating to live in a well. And poor Harry Potter is more than happy to escape the (forced) solitude of his cupboard under the stairs when a giant bearded man arrives to tell him that he’s actually a wizard.

I started, at my friend’s direction, with the more “normal” of Murakami’s novels before graduating to his more surreal works. Norwegian Wood, which was his breakthrough work, was the first one I read. A nostalgic romance, it revisits the main protagonist’s life and loves in 1960s Tokyo against the backdrop of civil unrest. It is beautiful – slow-moving, contemplative and bittersweet.

But for me, my real passion for Murakami came with the more outlandish tales – the more bonkers the better. I loved the escapism of Murakami’s novels straight away. In the menacing tale After Dark, set in the course of one night, a sleeping woman disappears into her television set. In Kafka on the Shore, Nakata’s job is to find lost cats (and chat with them), but danger lies with Johnnie Walker, a cat killer who makes flutes out of the animals’ souls. My favourite by far is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which in my mind melded the banal and the bizarre perfectly. Oh, and was also about cats.

If talking cats and vanishing women aren’t your cup of tea, I might avoid Murakami, truth be told – chances are one or the other will pop up in his books. If not those, then most definitely a beautifully shaped ear or breast. There are plenty of sniggers at Murakami’s lavish descriptions of everything from what vegetables the main character stir-fried for dinner to how another perfected his swimming stroke. And his attempts at eroticism, even I have to admit, are far too cringeworthy to even quote here.

The internationally hyped 1Q84 made the shortlist for the Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex Award in 2011, and perhaps deserved to win the accolade. The New York Times also took umbrage with 1Q84, calling it at once “numbing” and “stupefying”: “We learn about Tengo’s pyjamas, and we learn what Aomame eats to prevent constipation. We learn about goldfish and a rubber plant. We learn that the second moon, when it starts appearing in the novel, looks mossy and green.”

I, however, love this tendency of Murakami to focus as much on the mundane as the mystical. I sink into his books when I read, enjoying the familiarity and even intimacy with the main character – you know how they live privately, what they eat, the fact that they agonise over whether to tip a cabbie. Knowing that the characters have insecurities and idiosyncrasies makes them real, and helps to bridge the culture gap – and also accept whatever strange spanner Murakami is about the throw into the works of this ordinary life.

The latest book, the whimsically titled Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of  Pilgrimage, is actually one of Murakami’s more “normal” offerings, which was a welcome relief for me after my head exploded reading 1Q84, where parallel worlds, female assassins and, er, Sonny and Cher, are par for the course. Tsukuru Tazaki is another loner who has lost his four childhood friends – who had all been named after colours – and now is colourless in both name and personality. His is an uncomplicated life – he rarely drinks, swims for half an hour twice a week, and visits train stations for entertainment. But, like so many of Murakami’s protagonists, he is forced out of his comfort zone.

Isolation is by far the overriding theme in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. “He was sitting alone in a huge, old vacant house, listening as a massive grandfather clock hollowly ticked away time. His mouth was closed, his eyes fixed on the clock as he watched the hands move  forward. His feelings were wrapped in layer upon layer of thin membrane and his heart was still as a blank, as he aged, one hour at a time.”

It is this isolation, the characters’ ability to navel-gaze, that really touches me. I don’t think I have ever heard loneliness described so honestly and accurately. If any theme is universal, surely this must be one, as it touches on something most people have experienced at some point in their lives.

And the cats and the seductive earlobes? I’m with the rest of the superfans on this, and I choose to embrace their fondness and good humour. The website Buzzfeed has a “Which Type of Haruki Murakami Character are You” quiz – with some of the possible results being “A Sexually Compelling Ear” or “Mysterious Artist Who Disappears”. I got “Talking Animal Who Tells Strangers That Their Mothers Don’t Love Them”, which is think cements my status as a superfan. I’ll get my camping gear.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker