Tag Archives: Haruki Murakami

Problem Posed. Problem Pondered. Problem Past…..with Helpful Haruki The Housewives Delight

…………………………………………….. A couple of months back I read that Haruki Murakami was to become an agony uncle and that he would ‘answer questions of any kind’ on his website! Now I’ve no idea what an agony uncle is supposed to do or what skills they’re supposed to have-but having read and loved Murakami’s wonderful imaimageginative stories I think the answers he gives will be……… well……………….. surreal obviously!

The only problem with Haruki’s problem page was he only accepted problems for a month, then gave his answers! Here are some of the problems posed for Haruki while he was agony-uncling ( predictive text really didn’t like that word so I guess I’ve made it up!)

30 is right around the corner for me, but there isn’t a single thing that I feel like I’ve accomplished. When I was young, I thought to be an ‘adult’ must be so wonderful, but my current reality is so far away from what I imagined. And when faced with that reality, I get very disheartened. What should I do?

Every time I read that problem I think I might have written it myself – then I remember that 30 is around a very different corner for me! Anyway, here’s another……..

My wife quite frequently belches right near the back of my head when she passes behind me. When I say to her, “Stop burping behind me all the time,” she says, “It’s not on purpose. It just comes out.” I don’t think I’m bringing it upon myself in any way. Is there something I can do to stop my wife’s belching? (Murakami’s answer to this one is quite brilliant-I’ve put it at the bottom of this post – just to force you on into reading the rest of my drivel!)

Initially, I was just entertained by it but then I had a thought……Haruki’s not the only one people write to – people write to me all the time with what I’d thought previously were rather………………………………… tangential comments!………………….. Now I realise they’re cries for help!!!!!!!! I felt shame, deep deep shame! Here I am getting comments asking for advice and help and I just ignore them!

I work in the public sector in the UK (well trodden euphemism for ex-teacher-now-civil-servant!). So I’m used to being in public service – and if someone as illustrious and genius-like as Haruki gives his time to help others, then so should an eejit like me!

So I’ve decided I will respond to those desperate souls out there who write to me everyday with their somewhat random queries, for as they don’t say but should “One man’s random is another man’s lifesaver!!!!!”

And since I’ve been inspired into doing my duty to those in need by Haruki, I’ve decided to herewith name this part of my blog “Helpful Haruki The Housewives Delight Problem Page! ( it’s also partly named after one of my favourite Joni Mitchell lyrics, even though Joni doesn’t do agony auntying herself!)

So first up is this plea for help from a desperate mother ( at least I think it’s a mother!) who has asked me

Dear Helpful Haruki

Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.”

She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. Now she says she never wants to go back! What shall I do?

Dear Katstron
First of all what a lovely name! As soon as I read it I thought you could have been a character in one of my novels!
I was sorry to hear what happened to little Katstron. The best way to get her back to the beach is to make it safer than anywhere else. So put hermit crabs in her hats, pillows, ear muffs, and everywhere else at home. Every time she gets bitten just say ‘We’d be safer at the beach darling baby Katstron – there’s only one hermit crab there!’ Eventually she’ll beg you to go to the beach!
Ever Yours
Helpful Haruki

I’ve got tons of these waiting but feel free to send more. So to paraphrase those truly legendary all-American problem solvers “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can’t find the A Team …….. maybe you can hire Helpful Haruki!”

And finally, as promised ( even if you did scroll down to here rather than read this shite, here’s Mr Murakami’s wonderful answer to that poor gentlemen with the intermittently belching wife!

I hope you’ll pardon me for saying so, but I think belching is far better than farting. Perhaps you should think of it that way!!!!

“I Don’t Deserve This Award – But Then I Have Arthritis And I Don’t Deserve That Either!”………..My Book Of The Year Awards!……….

……….Jack Benny I hope you noticed the nice mix in the titles for this post – the classic false modesty from the comedian Jack Benny followed by my own unlimited arrogance and vanity in announcing “my book of the year awards!!!!”

In a way though starting this post with Jack Benny is rather appropriate – his first words on Ed Sullivan’s radio show in the US in the early thirties was supposed to have been “This is Jack Benny talking. There will now be a short pause while you sit at home thinking –  ‘who cares?!”.

It just fits perfectly for:-

“This is my Book Of The Year Awards” post and there will now be a gap of at least two lines…

……….while you have a chance to think  – who the hell cares!!!!!

But if you reached this line you must be intrigued, so stick with it till the end  – you won’t be disappointed!

Well…..actually….. you might be disappointed at the end, but I’ll leave a couple more empty lines so I can think “So you’re disappointed! What the hell do I care?!”

And so my awards! I’ve read a lot of good books this year, heard some great music, seen some great gigs – and eaten some lovely pies! So here are my awards for 2012!

1. TV Programme Location of the Year

Waterloo Road
Memories – like the Corridors of My Mind!

The award goes to BBC’s “Waterloo Road” which is now filmed at “Greenock Academy”, my old school in Scotland. It allows me to indulge in spotting familiar walls, corridors and pupil toilets – which instead of impressing my daughter actually bores her rigid!

If you can get over the fact that they moved the school from England to Scotland and took all the kids with them into a sort of cult-cum-boarding unit, then the best of all is that while the BBC have tarted the building up for the fictional school, the quality of the teaching in the fictional school looks just as shite as I remember it being in the real school!!!

2. Book Week Of The Year

Much as I enjoyed the Muriel Spark Reading Week, the award for me goes to the Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, which Annabel’s House of Books hosted back in June of this year. I’d not read any of Beryl Bainbridge’s stuff before-hand – I loved it – quirky and sharp and just wonderful. It turned me from a Beryl-virgin to a Beryl-lover almost overnight!

3. The ‘Well Bugger Me I Didn’t Know That!’ Award for 2012

Birdie BowersThanks to book blogs I read quite a bit about the centenary of Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. And through that I discovered that Birdie Bowers, who accompanied Captain Scott and was one of those who died alongside him at the end, originally came from my home town of Greenock in Scotland. We seem to make little of the connection which is odd to say the least as Greenock isn’t exactly bustling with well known explorers, actors, sportsmen, politicians or well known anythings! Anyway it led me to read a bit about his life – truly amazing man!

4. Best Bit Of Poetry Learned Off By Heart This Year Award

I’ve loved several new collections this year but my favourite was Seamus Heaney’s “Human Chain!”. And from the poem ‘Route 101’ I loved learning the following lines (and love boring people to death reciting them!)

“In a stained front-buttoned shopcoat / Sere brown piped with crimson / Out of the Classics bay into an aisle /  Smelling of dry rot and disinfectant / She emerges, absorbed in her coin count / Eyes front, right hand at work / In the slack marsupial vent / Of her change – pocket, thinking what to charge / For a used copy of Aeneid VI. / Dustbreath bestirred in the cubicle mouth / I inhaled as she slid my purchase / Into a deckle edged brown paper bag”

5. The “Terrific” Award (for books that aren’t my book of the year but came bloody close and so deserve again the accolade of my favourite word!)

Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller and The Museum Of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk were both

Terrific 1

A Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry were both

Terrific 2

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Books One, Two and Three) were all

Terrific 3

HHhH by Laurent Binet and If This Is A Man by Primo Levi were both

Terrific 4

Heartburn by Norah Ephron and The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach were both

Terrific 5

6. The “I’m Really Sorry But I Thought This Was Bloody Awful” Book Of The Year Award

Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad”. I just didn’t get it! I guess I’m not clever enough. Sorry Jen!

7. The ‘I Love Guy Garvey Of Elbow More Than Anyone Else Does’ Award

Guy GarveyWith apologies to my mate Steve Smith in Thailand, who fancies himself as a big Elbow fan but can’t be taken seriously as he chose to desert Guy and go live the life of Riley on the beaches of Thailand teaching people to dive (get a proper job you old fart!) and with my apologies to Guy Garvey’s girlfriend, the writer Emma Unsworth,  the award for the person who loves Guy Garvey more than anyone else does, goes to – ME!

8. The Album Of The Year

Dead easy – the beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous “Mid Air” by Paul Buchanan – have a quick listen!

9. Gig Of The Year

This is harder – I’ve seen Elbow a couple of times this year but I have to say we were absolutely awe-struck by the magnificent Bruce Springsteen at the Isle of Wight festival – we watched it knee deep in mud and didn’t give a shit! Truly wonderful!


10. Dive Of The Year

Suarez1This is a special category for my partner, my daughter and her family who are all Liverpool fans. The award goes to the Suarez2Olympic medal-winning last gasp effort from Tom Daley!

But for the runner-up you can choose any of half a dozen or more spectacular dives from that muppet Luiz Suarez!

11. Pie Of The Year

MandS pieThere’s nothing to beat Marks and Spencers! They have the gorgeous Twiggy in their ads, the fabulous sound of Dervla Kirwen doing the voiceover for the food commercials and their pies are great. This year my favourite was the individual Steak and Cornish IPA Ale pies – so fantastic if you gave me a choice between Twiggy, Dervla or the pie, it would be the pie every time!!!!!!!!!!!!!

12. Shite Gig But Chilli Con Carne Of The Year Award

We were unfortunate enough to see Coldplay at the Emirates earlier in the year – bloody awful! I should have known. I saw Coldplay when they were starting out, just after the Yellow album was released – they were at a lovely intimate venue at Brixton Academy – and yet they were bloody awful then as well! However we left the gig early and discovered the Chilli of The Year, washed down with Guinness, at a lovely little pub in Finsbury Park!

13. Comeback Of The Year

Roy 1This is a close run thing between two of my favourite men of books – the mercurial genius that is Roy Race, scourge of every team on the planet in his role as Roy Of The Rovers – and the mercurial genius that is Detective Inspector John Rebus, scourge of every criminal and low-life in Edinburgh and it’s environs in Iain Rankin’s novels- and as a Glaswegian it’s my job to say disparaging things about the good folk of Edinburgh! But since I thought Iain Rankin’s ‘Standing In Another Man’s Grave’ was brilliant, the winner for me is John Rebus! Plus as he has won it allows me to have a couple of pints and a couple of whiskies to honour his achievement! If Roy Of The Rovers had won I’d have been forced to go down the park, beat all the kids at “3 and you’re in!” and then do at least 100 on keepie-uppie – and I’m much more of a five beers than a five-a-side man these days!

14. And finally, my Book Of The Year

I’ve read so many that have been terrific but one just noses ahead – not by much, but by enough to be the read of the year for me – the beautiful story of Jack and Mabel in The Snow Girl by Eowyn Ivey.

The Snow Child

Now I’d said earlier in the year that I would choose a book of the year – and in my own version of the Costa Prize, that I’d buy the winning author a coffee. And I’d like to be true to my word – so if Eowyn Ivey ever reads this and fancies collecting this illustrious prize, I’ll meet her any week day by the Cafe Nero coffee stall in Victoria Station – I’m in the queue most mornings around half past seven – the lattes are on me Eowyn!

And having started with the acerbic wit of Jack Benny on awards, I’d like to end with the acerbic wit of my partner. On the day that the New Year Honours were announced she initially amazed me by saying she’d love to be nominated for an award – and when I expressed astonishment as this didn’t fit with her strong principles and said “Really???????????????????” she replied – “Yeah! So I could then tell them to stick their award up their arse!!!!!!” – That’s my girl!

So if Eowyn Ivey tells me where to put my offer of a free latte as my Book Of The Year, I’ll understand completely!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Two Moons….. You Saw Me Standing Alone…..” – Book Review of 1Q84 Books 1 and 2 by Haruki Murakami

………..From the outset I want to nail my colours firmly to the mast – I absolutely loved this book, loved everything about it and have now ordered Book Three and can’t wait for it to arrive so I can live a little longer in the world of 1Q84.

The book follows the lives of the two main characters Tengo and Aomame in a series of alternating chapters focused on one or other of them in turn. Tengo is an aspiring novelist and writer, who eventually takes on the task of “re-writing” a book for subsequent submission for a literary prize. Throughout the book this is a great mechanism for Murakami to give a fantastic insight into the writing process and beyond. Aomame on the other hand is a kind of avenging assassin, wreaking revenge in the most subtle, understated but super-efficient way, with her victims essentially men who are abusers. In the early stages of the novel there seems no connection between the two in any way but of course you expect that connection and it comes. But it is brilliantly done. As you read it you are fed tiny pieces of the connections between the two but it’s teased out gently, page after page, a bit like a spider spinning the most delicately interwoven web which is only revealed to you by the morning dew gathering on its threads – and even then it’s revealed to you one dew drop at a time as it were.

The two main characters and their intertwining lives are supplemented by the story of Fuka-Eri, a 17 year-old girl who writes the most fantastic novel in terms of narrative but in terms of style and structure it’s all over the place. It needs re-written and that’s where Tengo comes in and eventually Aomame becomes linked into it too. Of course there’s so much more to the story than this but I won’t say more in any case anybody who reads this post decides to try 1Q84 – I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone as it’s a joy to read this book!

There’s something odd and a kind of friction and tension within the personality of every character in the book for me, even in the very minor characters, but somehow this added to rather than detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. Consequently, because of the slightly strange feel to everything I wouldn’t say I was able to completely empathise with Tengo, Aomame, Fuka-Eri or any other character in the book. But I was fascinated by them and I felt I did kind of understand them. They are so well drawn that their complexities, features and lives simply leap off the page at you.

The book is wonderfully well written. No matter what he explores in a chapter it is always done with a kind of vibrancy in the writing and yet there is a feeling of a writer applying an economy of effort at the same time. It reads like one of those books where the author says just the right words, just the right amount of words and just at the right time, on every single page.

Above all though for me what I loved most about this book is “story” itself. Clearly there are obvious parallels between it and Orwell’s 1984. I read Orwell’s book a long time ago as a very callow adolescent. I remember enjoying reading it but 1Q84 definitely moved me more than Orwell’s book. (That may of course simply be a maturity thing for me personally).  I loved the fact that somehow this is what I tend to think of as a “clever” book, in fact it’s a toweringly “clever” book, and yet it stayed on the right side of clever from start to finish and never strayed into the “look how clever I am” territory that I sometimes find with some other authors.

At this point I’ve no idea where it will go next in Book Three – but I can’t wait to find out

The Incredible Lightness Of Being……….A Paperback!

I’ve just finished reading the first two books of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – the story is absolutely wonderful and I loved it – but reading it in hardback was bloody hard work at times. I find reading hardback versions so awkward – I struggle to find a way to hold them comfortably for any length of time and end up shuffling about as if I’ve got St Vitus Dance! (I reckon anybody who grew up in Glasgow heard “St Vitus Dance” referred to every day – any time we moved when sitting in a chair or lying on the carpet at home the phrase “Have you got St Vitus Dance?” came out!). If you’re interested, Saint Vitus is considered to be the patron saint of dancers, apparently, with the eponym given as homage to the manic dancing that historically took place in front of his statue during the feast of Saint Vitus in Germanic and Latvian cultures. Colloquially it became the name given for Sydenham’s Chorea disease – I think that’s how it entered Glaswegian parlance rather than the Germanic dancing route! Then again, we Glaswegians have been known to indulge in the odd bit of manic dancing!!!!! (usually on Saturday nights when the pubs near closing time!)

Anyway I digress. Back to the Hardback.

I just find it awkward to hold – it always feels too heavy to hold in one hand and if I hold it in two then my ability to drink tea or coffee and read at the same time is seriously impaired. Pathetic as it sounds I get a sore arm holding up a hardback book (and I know that makes me sound like a real wimp but I can’t help it!). In addition, I always think hardback books are meant to be read sitting up straight, at a desk for example. When I read fiction I want to lounge and sprawl about – doing that with a hardback doesn’t work too well! Mind you they have their advantages – they are more durable and so look better with age (I like that – I’m going to think of myself as a “hardback” from now on!!!). They also look more imposing to me when I see them on my shelves at home – and I like the “image” of them. As a child who was reliant on the library for a supply of reading material, the hardback book had real “status” to my mind – I thought of them as the preserve of the rich, the successful and the intellectuals – though where I got this notion from I’m not sure as rich, successful, intellectuals were rather conspicuous by their absence where I grew up! And yet that impression of the hardback as the preserve of the rich and clever is still with me to some extent even today – and even though I know it’s really nonsense!!

For all the difficulty I have in getting comfortable with a hardback book, I still buy them from time to time but as I look at them on my shelves they pretty much fall into a few categories for me.

Firstly there are those that I tend to buy by authors I love, when I can’t wait for the latest novel to appear in paperback. Consequently there are more hardbacks than paperbacks by Ian Rankin (what’s not to love about the Rebus stories), Ian Banks more recent stuff, and some books by the likes of Roddy Doyle, Louis de Bernieres, Sebastian Faulks, Peter Carey ( I hated the feel of “Parrot and Olivier In America”, couldn’t get comfortable reading it at all and yet I loved that book) and of course Murakami.

Then there are those I pick up in charity shops – they are mainly biographies, and a fair proportion of these are sports related, especially football. I’ve no idea why I buy those in hardback but I do – perhaps it lends physical substance to some of the more ‘limited’ substance and formulaic writing I encounter on the pages of countless footballers’ biographies – maybe sub-consciously my view of the intellectual status of the hardback lends credence to some of the less-than-intellectual subject matter! (of course all things Eric Cantona are exempt from this mild criticism!)

Third come poetry books – I not only buy these in hardback but they are the only genre I actually PREFER to read in hardback – mainly because they are small enough to be solid and also feel comfortable! The durability is the key here. My early days “poor student” poetry books are in a right old state!

Finally, as I look around there are a few hardbacks that I’m pretty sure came when I was a member of a “Book Club” years ago. They’d send you a form to order what you fancied but it would also include the “Editors Choice”. You were supposed to send back to them within so many days if you DIDN’T want the “Editors Choice”  I was hopeless at that and so ended up with several hardback books that I’d not otherwise have chosen. How else can I explain the presence on my shelves of things like the Craig Thomas “thriller” (and I use that word advisedly) “All The Grey Cats”, The Shorter Illustrated History Of The World (aaaaagh!), and John Gribbin’s “In Search Of The Edge Of Time” (read it all the way through and had absolutely no idea what it was on about!)

So while I like the status and the look of the hardback, it’s the paperback I love most. I’m one of those who’ll be eternally grateful to Penguin for their introduction of paperbacks to our shores back in the 1930’s.

Mind you there are other uses and advantages in the hardback book. As Alfred Hitchcock said “‘The paperback is very interesting but I find it will never replace the hardcover book – it makes a very poor doorstop!” and perhaps even more thoughtfully Robert Clark pointed out “Always buy pornographic books in hardback –  they’re easier to hold with one hand!” And on that note…………………………………!