There has always been a strong – you might even say defining – tension in the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s fictional world between Murakami the pop surrealist, revelling in off-the-wall fantasies and reality shifts (as in A Wild Sheep Chase, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84), and Murakami the melancholic, tender, lyrical realist (most famously in Norwegian Wood). Yet the seemingly unreal often coexists with the more plausible, and Murakami’s books frequently blend both between one set of covers. The delicacy of the balance between the outlandish and the everyday tends to determine the power, or otherwise, of his novels. The down-to-earth narratives are off-centred by a wry otherworldliness; the fantastic elements countered by an audaciously banal account of daily life.
Initially drawn to the freewheeling inventions in Murakami’s work, and the gentleness and humour of the deadpan, straight-faced tone in which even the most unlikely events are related, I now find myself more impressed by his quieter, Raymond Carver-esque moments – Carver being a key early influence, and one of