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Surrealism on a sliding scale – five shades of Haruki Murakami.

In October 2018, Japanese literary giant Haruki Murakami released an epic work of the imagination in the form of his novel Killing Commendatore. An exploration love and loneliness, war and art, the book features all the playful symbolism, mysterious circumstances, out-of-the-ordinary characters and magical objects for which Murakami is famous, and is being heralded as existing on a similar literary plain as his bestselling trilogy IQ84.

Murakami’s novels have been translated into more than 50 languages, and the international accolades he has amassed – among them several honorary doctorates, the Jerusalem, Catalunya and Franz Kafka Prizes, and Hans Christian Anderson Award – reflect the global impact of his largely surrealist body of work. Of this international appeal, on his website he says: ‘I think people who share my dreams can enjoy reading my novels. And that’s a wonderful thing… Myths are like a reservoir of stories, and if I can act as a similar kind of “reservoir,” albeit a modest one, that would make me very happy.’

Here we score five Murakami novels against our highly scientific ‘Surreal’ scale. Telekinesis and a storm of fish rate quite highly, a sky of two moons falls mid-range, while the sudden return of a childhood friend sits at the lower end of the scale. Bonus points were awarded for cats.


NORWEGIAN WOOD
An elegant, understated and gently affecting novel of young love and loss. The protagonist, Toru, reminisces about his college relationships during the upheaval of the late-sixties student movement. One-hundred percent realist, Norwegian Wood is the book that catapulted Murakami to stardom in Japan.

SURREAL FACTOR: 1/5; THE MAGIC OF THE EVERYDAY
 

KILLING COMMENDATORE
The subjects of a painting come to life, speaking only to a solitary artist holed up in the mountains. This sparks a journey through an underworld of Double Metaphors, where the unnamed hero negotiates cryptic markers and characters in order to close the door on a mysterious circle of events.

SURREAL FACTOR: 3.5/5; OUR WORLD, BUT TILTED
 

SOUTH OF THE BORDER, WEST OF THE SUN
One of the most-loved novels among Murakami devotees, South of the Border is a terse and melancholic exploration of love and time. While it lacks the overt surrealism of many of his other works, the author’s feather-light touch gives the work a delicate and ethereal quality.

SURREAL FACTOR: 2/5; SHE’S PROBABLY REAL…
 

1Q84
Arguably Murakami’s magnum opus, this trilogy of novels about alternate realities, sinister cults, a literary prodigy and much else besides is an extraordinary read, and despite its imposing size, a great place to start with Murakami.

SURREAL FACTOR: 3/5; OTHERWORLDLY BUT ACCESSIBLE
 

THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE
The book that cemented his literary credibility, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is Murakami at his minimal best. At its heart, it’s a detective story, but the interplay of the metaphysical, political and personal means that it defies easy categorisation, just as its ending defies easy explanation.

SURREAL FACTOR: 4/5; AM I DREAMING?
 

KAFKA ON THE SHORE
Almost a literary riddle, Kafka on the Shore is equally madding and brilliant. In alternating chapters, we follow a young boy searching for his mother and sister, and an old man who finds lost cats. It sounds straightforward enough, but this strange and captivating novel is dizzying, bewildering and utterly gripping.

SURREAL FACTOR: 5/5; A KAFKAESQUE INKBLOT TEST

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