UPDATE: My Wind/Pinball review can be found here.
Publisher: Kodansha International Ltd., (1987)
Paperback: 165 pages
Late last year, after finishing Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (read my StarTwo review), I went on a quest to complete my Haruki Murakami collection. I felt like I simply had to have every one of his books published in English to truly get into this author. I was lucky that Borders was having their 3 for 2 promotion for all the British covers of Murakami, so I managed to get them all, except for his two first novels: Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. Though these novels have had their English translations published in Japan, Murakami doesn't want the English-speaking world reading them, because he thinks they're terrible.
Thanks to eBay, and an enterprising fellow in Japan who's stocked up on English copies of Hear the Wind Sing, I managed to get my hands on a copy. And at 6" x 4", such a cute copy it is! At that minuscule size, it's the perfect book to read on the Putra line at 8am. That's of course, if you don't doze off first. As is usually the case, the problem with first novels is that the writer hasn't found his voice yet, and this is especially true with Hear the Wind Sing.
The novel takes place within 18 days in the summer of 1970, and follows the aimless wanderings and ramblings of the nameless protagonist that Murakami is infamous for and also that of his friend, Rat. Murakami's signature icons and animals already start to appear in this book. Elephants, cats, wells, weirdo girls. They're there, but perhaps a little less underused than they will be in his later novels and short stories. Then there's his penchant for invoking Western culture. References abound from Gatsby to Dostoyevsky, Marvin Gaye to The Beach Boys.
Though this initial novel proves Murakami was already a writer with great ideas and adept in creating interesting dialogue, it also betrays a lack of skill in plotting. Did he pick that up later on? There is no discernible plot whatsoever in this book, just a college student aimlessly going through his life while waiting for his summer vacation to end.
I thought Hear the Wind Sing plodded along at an unbearably slow speed. Nothing that helps the story move along ever happens, and when a mystery crops up, they go unsolved, and the characters remain unbothered and indifferent. The dialogue continues throughout to hint at something more substantial waiting to be revealed, but that never seems to happen. Talk about pretentious! If this was submitted to Western publisher by an unknown writer, it'd be left rotting in the slush pile.
I'm currently working my way through his second novel, Pinball, 1973, and I'll be posting up a review of that quite soon.
For more on Hear the Wind Sing, Bookfox has a good review on his blog.