“As long as I had something to transmit,” says the narrator of these two short novels from 1979 and 1980, “my existence would be assured.” Over three decades later, his creator Haruki Murakami is transmitting all over the world, a Japanese hero of postmodern literature.
It’s no surprise then that his early efforts — previously unpublished outside Japan — would be re-released, no matter their merit.
But Murakami has always taken risks, and thanks to the inventive energy on display here we get more than mere juvenilia.
The first story, “Hear the Wind Sing,” feels much like what it is: a stab at literature by a jazz club owner, writing at dawn at his kitchen table. In a series of rambling vignettes, an unnamed college student trades boozy philosophy with his friend “the Rat,” while dating a troubled girl with nine fingers.
Already, Murakami staples abound: home-cooked spaghetti and casual surrealism, student life in the ’60s and references to movies and songs, even a metaphysical interest in wells.
In the more polished follow-up “Pinball, 1973,” the ennui is heaped on a little thick. The same melancholic narrator searches for an outmoded pinball machine, a symbol of his aimless youth. But then nearing the end, as if by sudden miraculous elevation, we land firmly in Murakami ambience.
Throughout both stories, the writer’s famous voice is remarkably self-assured, addictive from the first in its searching and gently intimacy. It’s the kind of literature that makes you feel like writing your own novel — now all you need is a kitchen table!