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Five Novels That Influenced Haruki Murakami's Writing

His world is not quite like ours, yet there is always a hint of the familiar. Men are often wandering loners who may have mysteries to solve or pieces of puzzles to put together. His women often form the intricate pieces of these puzzles, or they may serve as the catalysts for greater mystery, adventure and love. But of course in the Murakami world there will also always be ghosts, parallel universes, sudden shifts in the fabric of time, magic sheep, unicorn skulls, mafia, wrestlers and, well, cats. Lots of cats. All manner of cats.

Over various interviews and readings, Murakami paints himself as a much maligned man in his home country. He has often stated that the literary elite does not favour him or his works. But the fans there are ravenous, especially since the publication of Norwegian Wood in 1987 (a book that really zoned in on the weirdly common themes of young love and suicide in Japanese culture, an explosive mix that propelled him to superstardom).

Part of his rough treatment by critics at home is due to Murakami’s obvious love of America and American literature, American jazz, American movies, American baseball, you name it, and how it spills over into his work. He has a real love for American culture which is surprising in one way as he is the child of not one but two Japanese literature teachers. In another way, it really isn’t all that surprising; he wanted to break away from Japan’s homegrown post-WWII works of serious fiction and get lost in a wild open world of freedom, which he found in American literature. It became a home away from home, where adventures and genres were split and created anew with endless music, parties, sex, reinvention and revolution.

The Big Sleep

Murakami has said that this series – comprised of seven novels, including Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window and The Lady in the Lake and several shorts – was hugely influential for him. With his laid back, calm and confident manner Marlowe is the personification of American detective noir. A wise man with his own moral compass, Marlowe was the hard drinking, tough-guy private dick that spawned a thousand copycats. You can see glimpses of Chandler throughout Murakami’s oeuvre (those wispy seductive women and the many fatalistic leading men). Murakami’s love ran deep as he mentioned in an interview with The Guardian that Chandler’s protagonist may have been fictional for the American, but for Murakami he was very much a reality. 

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The Great Gatsby (Wisehouse Classics Edition)

For a lover of American literature, how could Murakami not love Gatsby? This choice isn’t really a surprise and, in fact, it’s his favourite book of all time. He even translated it. Gatsby is stamped all over Murakami’s work. There are Jay Gatsbys and Nick Carraways everywhere. In a way Murakami’s love of American fiction could easily be distilled within the novel, there is a metaphor in there somewhere; I always imagined Murakami as the Carraway figure, wanting to be Gatsby, or in reality this metaphor translated as the Japanese writer always looking up to what he perceived as the greater literary empire, trying his best to gain access through emulation but never imitation. Was that too deep?

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The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye is the other great American classic on this list, and again Murakami translated it and was obsessed by it, which is evident if you’ve ever read Kafka on the Shore or After Dark. It has the central young male loner, wandering day and night around New York City in the 1950s and it has its plot contrivances revolving around women be they Jane Gallagher, Sunny, or Sally Hayes. Murakami’s male protagonists are often completely at a loose end when it comes to women and I would say almost every male protagonist of Murakami’s has a little Carraway/Gatsby and a little Holden Caulfield in their DNA. 

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The Castle

Murakami fell in love with the shock power of The Castle having read it when he was 15 and certainly there’s a quirky, slightly askew nature to this popular unfinished novel that permeates Murakami’s own work. The central character, K, arrives in a village governed by bureaucrats in the local castle nearby. No one is quite sure what goes on within the castle or indeed what the men governing the village actually do, but the residents have plenty of ideas. A simple flaw of theirs is in fact the reason for K’s sudden presence. Are there other flaws? K needs to know. And so do we.

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The Brothers Karamazov

This is possibly the hardest to place of Murakami’s choices. The second book to break away from his American obsession, at first glance it is hard to see how, if at all, it influenced his style. There is a multitude of characters in Dostoevsky’s novel with the bulk of the book relating to the four brothers and their own families. It is a deeply personal and philosophical book and this, perhaps, is where the connection lies. There is a great deal of thought in this novel – the moral kind, the spiritual kind, the desires of man, the responsibilities and ethics of man – and all of these themes feature throughout Murakami’s novels in little bite-sized pieces. 

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Shane O’Reilly has lived in Dublin all his life; that’s 34 years of memories and adventures around the city centre. While he watched as his friends emigrated during the recession, he started ... Show More

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