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 Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test