parallel stories

I’m currently reading Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, and concurrently reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

I started reading HW&EW on the plane to Japan. I figured that it would be somewhat appropriate to read a novel by a Japanese author while I was there, and I’d been meaning to read more of Murakami’s works anyway.

A couple of weeks ago (and a couple of weeks since getting back from Japan), I was out in the City to get a haircut. Subsequently having a bit of time to kill before dinner, I decided to retreat to the library. Out of curiosity, and just because that’s what I do, I browsed the “recent returns”. At the time, I was somewhere in the middle of HW&EW, so I wasn’t really looking for something to borrow out and read, but when I picked up ATTB, and read a few pages, I just couldn’t put it down.

So I’ve been alternately reading HW&EW and ATTB over the last couple of weeks or so. It’s kind of funny (as in weird-funny) how similar they are – not in storyline, but in other aspects (other than the authors both being Japanese, although I think Ozeki is only half Japanese).

The main similarity that struck me early on was that they both contain two stories intertwined to create a greater story. Unsurprisingly, HW&EW alternates between the so-called “hardboiled wonderland”, and a place known as “the end of the world”. ATTB switches between the diary/journal of a Japanese teenage girl (Nao), and the life of a woman living in Canada (Ruth).

This means that I’ve inadvertently given myself four different stories to read simultaneously.

But, you know, both books are quite easy to read, so I don’t really mind. And, surprisingly, it hasn’t been too much of a challenge to keep up with everything that’s happening in each plot. Sure, there might have been some details I had to think over, or re-read, but, for the most part, it’s been pretty easy going between the two.

Both novels also seem to be teaching me a lot of little things about Japan and Japanese culture, which is obviously something I have some interest in, but which might have been more pertinent prior to my holiday. Well, I suppose a lot of it is stuff about daily life in Japan, and not useful touristy stuff, or even historical stuff. But that’s fine. Maybe that’s actually better. It’s quite fascinating learning about “real life” in another country, albeit via fictitious stories.

To be fair, though, ATTB seems to be pretty realistic – like, I could easily believe that these things actually happened, and that these people actually exist(ed). Plus, I’m sure Ozeki (and Murakami, for that matter) has enough first-hand experience to know some intimate details about Japan, the people, and their culture/mentality/perspective on various things. HW&EW is a bit more fantastical, but still written in such a way that I really could believe Calcutecs and INKlings and sound-cancelling exist, or could exist.

And something that’s just occurred to me now: The protagonist in each sub-story is the same gender as the author who created them. Probably not anything significant, but makes me wonder if most people find it easier to write stories from the perspective of a character that’s the same gender as they are… Not sure where I stand on this, but the story I’ve been trying to write for several months (at least since mid-2016) has a male protagonist, and I’ve severely neglected the whole thing this year (almost to the point of abandoning it).

Back to HW&EW and ATTB, though, there’s also something rather sad about each story within each novel. I don’t suppose there are many stories these days that don’t have some element of sadness, but both novels seem to derive their sadnesses from loss and, more specifically, from death. From what I recall, no one significant has actually died yet – in either novel – but it’s sort of like a brooding cloud on the horizon. Well, except I’ve got four clouds now, and I don’t know which will bring rain first (if at all).

Both novels are also riveting reads. I want to spend all day reading, but having a job (that I would like to keep) kind of gets in the way of that. And then, you know, general life things get in the way (like how I should be sleeping right now, but I’m writing this instead…) So, this could take a while, but when I’m done, you can be sure each one will receive a full post here!

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One thought on “parallel stories

  1. Pingback: blue sky, names, sadness | pistachio conspiracy #63

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