Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami (Translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen) - review by James Fleming

James Fleming

Thoughts on Ordinariness

Novelist as a Vocation


Harvill Secker 208pp £18.99

It may be that only no-account novelists such as myself will appreciate this extraordinary book. I no longer think I’m the bee’s knees or wish to write a bestseller. The notebooks containing my invaluable pensées have long since hit the bin, as have the manuscripts that some American university was certain to pay a large sum for. So I do not approach this book seeking the key to success, the golden nugget or how best to self-promote. That said, I note that my submerged thoughts still have a consistent drift to the novelistic – what Haruki Murakami calls ‘a kind of qualification’ that withstands all attempts at definition. It lives somewhere in one’s bones, mouse-like and undemanding. It is the basic driver of novel-writing.

For some people the reservoir is emptied after one or two books. There may be other reasons to stop writing (too much like hard work, too solitary), but a few – a very few – are like Murakami, who has been writing novels of a high quality for a livelihood for thirty-five years. The creators of serial heroes such as Biggles, Bond and Hornblower have a much easier time of it than the likes of Murakami, who basically builds a new house with every book. In asking how he does it, one does not expect lessons on the split infinitive or the Oxford comma, but nor does one expect an exposition of such breathtaking simplicity and profundity as he has given us here.

For a start, his style. It is limpid, totally unaffected and trustworthy. This is a man who in his writing – and, one would guess, in his inner life – is bien dans sa peau. He has nothing to prove yet doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

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