I spent much of my waking hours in Nagpur hurtling down the crazy murder-mystery- adventure of Haruki Murakami's 'Dance Dance Dance'. The protagonist's name is never revealed in the novel (and even if it was, I never registered it), but everything else about the book hangs around me as vividly as it would have if you draped me with it. That I think, is great writing. I have not read a book like this so far, and though Murakami is considered a great novelist, never got my hands on his books. This time I did, thanks to Raja who is into Murakami a bit these days.
One of my methods of classifying a book into great or mediocre is by testing whether the story sticks with me, the characters stick with me, the aura, some scenes etc after the read. And if something about it bothers me in a good way or a bad way then it definitely vaults over into the great writing. The first thing I thought after I finished the book was 'Hey, who killed them and what and how?'. I could not entirely piece the plot together (I can't piece too many things together so complicated plots are rather tough for me) and would have liked some help from the author, but then I really have no complaints apart from that. 'Dance, Dance, Dance' is a masterpiece in story telling.
So we have the hero, a thirty four year old writer who 'shovels snow' (Murakami uses that phrase beautifully throughout the book), thinks of the Dolphin Hotel where he stayed some years ago with Kiki, his lover and a high class call girl, based on a intuitive call. He finds that the old descript Dolphin Hotel is gone and in its place a spanking new hotel has been constructed, many floors high. He checks in and meets the first of the many intriguing characters, the beautiful Yumiyoshi, a bespectacled receptionist at the hotel who is a reluctant girl friend. Despite his many attempts the hero does not find out what happened to the hotel or Kiki the call girl. Then, he meets at the very same hotel, the highly intriguing 13 year old daughter psychic daughter of the two famous parents, divorced of course, Ame the photographer and Makimura, the bestselling yesteryear writer. And in Murakami's hands, the 13 year old's petulance and irritability and bad manners are actually understood by the reader. Anyway, the hero discovers that the old owner of the Dolphin hotel seems to be haunting the building and has probably named it the same, since he knew that this writer chap would come along. Obviously the hotel has been taken from him in less than fair means by a large corporation. From murder to haunted sightings, business intrigue to personal relationships, the novel flits by easily, uneasily.
'Dance as long as the music plays' advises the sheepman, the one who haunts the dark 16th floor. The one everyone is aware of and one that the hero, Yuki, Yumiyoshi have seen or felt. The 13 year old Yuki is escorted by the hero back to Tokyo or Kyoto and they become firm friends. And in one scene in a flop movie called Unrequited Love, the hero finds Kiki in a love scene with a chap he went to school with, the handsome, charming and famous Gotanda, a superstar in his own right. He tracks him down and they hit it off, just as the sheep man prophesises, that they are all connected together. And when the 13 year old sees the movie by chanc (or by design) she makes some stunning revelations that lead from one corpse to another, Kuki, Mei (another call girl) until the story resolves.
Murakami listens to music all through the book. From groups to songs of the eighties western music, he is perpetually listening to music as he drives, as he drinks, cooks, meets people. It's a device that is exasperating but it plays in your head in the background all the time and makes it sound so real. His descriptions of people and places almost never leave you - including those of the cops Bookish and his pal. Numbers, places, names, descriptions will always stay with you as you read the book and so will the characters.
There is nothing pretentious about Murakami's writing, a feature which I found in most other highly acclaimed writers. The language, though translated from Japanese, is simple and every thing keeps the story moving forward. His intelligence and skill at story telling is revealed in the way he drives the story forward, the way he makes the characters come alive, the way he draws the reader into that world - be it Hawaii, a superstar's house, he interior of a hotel - you leave your traces behind in that scene after you read the novel. I loved the way he used music, something I always dreamed of using, though differently.
I noticed a couple of Murakami's books with Raja and I know where to lay my hands on a couple more - one with Vinod I am sure and another with Miskil. I am pretty sure that all his plots are different from the blurbs on them and I will certainly get through most of his works. Murakami is a must-read, one of the greatest story tellers of this time undoubtedly.