Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki

25 10 2014

The plot in Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is as clean and sharp as the trajectory of a perfect golf ball shot. Which is a bit unusual for Haruki Murakami, whose plots often are expansive and unwieldy like an old oak with branches shooting out in all directions.

Basically, Tsukuru Tazaki is mercilessly rejected by the close circle of friends he belongs to as a high-school student. No reasons given. The rest of the novel is about how this rejection affects Tsukuru, and how he tries to work out what happened. The sharpness of the plot in this novel makes the central themes stand out with remarkable clarity: friendship, relationships, rejection and loss. And it allows for some very profound observations.

Tsukuru often ponders the fact that his Japanese name does not include a colour – his four friends’ names all contain a colour – and he concludes that this is symptomatic of his personality. He is, in essence, colourless.

I love Murakami’s light-touch approach to magical realism in this novel. The magic is there, but the focus is on the real world. I also like the little gems hidden in the text throughout the novel. “You can hide memories” but “you can’t erase the history that produced them.”

Tsukuru’s passion for train stations is another example of Murakami’s ability to find that one thing, that metaphor, that reveals what’s at the core of a person. Tsukuru watches trains arrive and leave a train station in the same way as others would attend a music concert. When colourless Tsukuru with “no personality” watches a train leaving the station, he observes: “Tsukuru had no place he needed to go.” This is just one brilliant example of Murakami’s incredibly economical and concise characterisation.

Just like in Norwegian Wood and 1Q84, Murakami places a piece of music at the centre of this novel. This time it’s Franz Liszt’s “Le mal du pays” from Years of Pilgrimage. If you’re not familiar with this piece, I suggest you listen to it when reading this novel. It certainly adds a dimension to the process of reading, and of understanding what’s at the heart of this novel.

Often when I read a new novel by Murakami, I think, “This is my favourite. This is his best he’s written.” So also this time.

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The Kill List

27 09 2013

I’ve just finished reading The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth, not because I’m a fast reader – it was released in the UK yesterday – but because it was already on sale in Dubai last week. And seeing only a couple of copies left on the shelf, I decided to go for it.

The blurb suggested this clean, crisp plot: The Preacher (terrorist) versus the Tracker (US manhunter). However, I’ve been a bit disappointed. It’s reasonably fast-paced, with quite a lot of detail (military procedure, slang and hardware, international inter-agency cooperation and non-cooperation, secret service protocol) and some twists and turns here and there in the plot. Still, I felt the novel didn’t quite deliver. I’m not saying it’s not worth reading, but it is not at the same standard as The Day of the Jackal, The Fourth Protocol (my Forsyth favourite), or The Devil’s Alternative.

Having a computer genius with Aspergers is not a new angle in 2013, but there were a few great phrases here and there adding a bit of spice – my favourite one being “with the imagination of a chapati”. And it annoys me when the research for local detail has been shoddy – the only “cheap local airline” flying direct between Doha and Dubai International is FlyDubai, and their passengers definitely don’t see “a truly vast duty-free shopping mall” on arrival. The Duty Free at Dubai Terminal 2 is definitely on the small side (as all FlyDubai passengers know very well).

That said, I think The Kill List compares favourably with The Cobra, The Afghan and Icon.

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A Delicate Truth

27 09 2013

John LeCarre’s A Delicate Truth is pure delight. I haven’t enjoyed a novel of his this much since The Little Drummer Girl, my LeCarre favourite. Though, mind you, all LeCarre’s novels are either very good or excellent.

The subtlety of the characters and the multi-layered plot make this a great read. LeCarre is a master at combining the spy world with interesting psychological portraits of people. I also enjoy the social and political comment. Normally, I don’t go for the whistle-blower theme, but this novel is just so satisfying, from the very beginning to the last page.

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Fasanjägarna

27 09 2013

Jag blev rekommenderad att läsa Fasanjägarna av Jussi Adler-Olsen när jag var i Stockholm i sommar. Jag tog med mig den på min resa med Transsibiriska järnvägen men undrar nu i efterhand varför i all världen jag läste den till slutet när jag också hade Dostojevskis Demonerna i resväskan.

Fasanjägarna hade en hyfsad början men sen tyckte jag att resten av boken gav ett fragmenterat intryck, där vissa teman gick runt i cirklar i all oändlighet. Romanen hade också nåt overkligt över sig, vilket jag inte gillar i en kriminalroman.

Orsaken till att jag inte gav upp var att jag ville veta hur det hela slutade. Jag läste färdigt boken någonstans mellan Bajkalsjön och Ulan Bator och lämnade den på ett vandrarhem i Mongoliet.

Demonerna hade varit ett mycket bättre val för resan på Transsibiriska järnvägen.

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Only Time Will Tell

27 09 2013

I haven’t read a book by Jeffrey Archer since I read Kane and Abel and the Prodigal Daughter back in the 80s. However, I was slightly intrigued by a comment Jeffery Archer made at a talk he gave at the Dubai Festival of Literature in March this year. He said, “I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller.” So I bought a copy of Only Tome Will Tell.

It is true that I complain about the lack of characterisation when a novel is only plot. But it’s equally true that I get bored if it’s only characterisation and the plot moves forward millimetre by millimetre, and could easily be overtaken by a snail. So I guess I’m looking for a balance between the two, in addition to some kind of elusive thing called “good writing”.

That said, Only Time Will Tell is plot only. And the plot is too neat and polished for my taste. Also, the authorial presence is quite “preachy” for lack of a better term. But I read the whole novel from beginning to end because I wanted to know what would happen next.

That’s the power of plot. With a plot in ultra slow motion and no “good writing”, I just forget about the novel somewhere before page 100. I won’t read the rest of the Clifton Chronicles Trilogy, though.

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Life of Pi – The Novel and the Movie

12 05 2013

The problem with the novel is that the movie is absolutely dazzling. It’s stunningly beautiful. That is not to say that the novel is not great. It’s a fantastic novel, but the visual impact of the movie, minus a few gory bits in the novel that I quite frankly could do without, makes the movie stay with me – grab me – in a way the novel does not.

The plot is the same. The key moments in the story – the lines in the story that the whole argument, for lack of a better term, rests on – are the same in the novel and the movie. But I feel that Ang Lee captures the nature of the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker more succinctly and crystallises it. That is one of the main strengths of the movie.

In the novel, the view of events is less precise, more hazy – and more in keeping with the mind of someone who’s floating around shipwrecked on the Pacific Ocean for 227 days.

But without the novel, there wouldn’t have been a movie in any case. And the underlying argument in the story, the case for faith – to tell you a story that makes you believe in God – is the same in both the movie and the novel.

If you have neither read the novel, nor seen the movie, my suggestion is the you read the novel first. To give it the full attention it deserves. And the chance to stand on its own – a chance I missed by watching the movie after I had just read a few chapters of the novel.

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Life of Pi

12 01 2013

I started reading Life of Pi on my flight to Istanbul in November last year, only to forget the book on the plane. And, no, AirArabia did not have it in their lost-and-found the following day, so maybe another passenger read it. I hope they enjoyed the book!

When the movie was about to be released, I bought an iBook version of the novel for my iPad and started reading it again. However, when I finally saw the film this week, I had only reached Chapter 9, so the film is sort of interrupting the book, and I can’t really compare the two until I’ve finished the book.

But I can say this. This is a great novel to read as an iBook. I’m very busy using the highlighter function to remember all these wonderful lines I keep stumbling across. Like this one: “It was my luck to have a few good teachers in my youth, men and women who came into my dark head and lit a match. ” (Chapter 7) Combining this quote with the scenes of Pi leisurely reading Dostoyevsky and Camus by the sea in the movie makes me think that the novel and the movie might be equally good.

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