Category Archives: Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

The first book of the year I read is an important one, well it is in my head if you are me. You see I like the first book that I read every year to be like an foresight/omen/sign of what my year ahead is going to be like. You might think I would pick an obvious favourite, oddly no because I don’t want my year to be too obvious. Not that I want it to be difficult or just rubbish, see this is where it gets trickier. I decided on The Strange Library, which is the latest book (because it is too short to even be a novella) by Haruki Murakami. So what does that mean for the year ahead?

Harvill Secker, hardback, translated from the Japenese by Ted Goossen, 2014, fiction, 88 pages, bought by myself for myself

The Strange Library is so short that it is more a fairytale with lots of (weird wonderful and inventive) illustrations throughout that tell a rather quirky tale of a school boy who regularily visits the library. Once upon a particular visit he ends up talking to and old man who wants to know what he wants to read, rather flippantly the young boy asks for books on taxation in the Ottoman empire, well libraries are meant to have everything. The young boy gets more than he bargained for when he ends up being sent to where the books are and becomes a prisoner in the library. Now to many (unless you were the Waterstones One) this would be a dream but for this boy it becomes a nightmare he can’t wake up from.

I sat down on the bed and buried my head in my hands. Why did something like this have to happen to me? All I did was go to the library to borrow some books’
“Don’t take it so hard,” the sheep man consoled me. “I’ll bring you some food. A nice hot meal will cheer you up.”
“Mr. Sheep Man,” I asked, “why would that old man want to eat my brains?”
“Because brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that’s why. They’re nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time.”

 What follows after I shall leave to those who read it, as I have given away about 33 pages of 70 page book (sorry but you don’t know the denouement, I’ve left you that) and I will leave you to imagine it. One of the wonderful things about Murakami is that you never have a clue where on earth he might take the story next – in a nice way – and with a whole underworld library to play with Murakami has many options.


Did I like it? I did, it was a fun romp. I didn’t love it, though I certainly didn’t loath it. I think I was in that mixture of thinking ‘well this is rather fun and ridiculous’ whilst also thinking ‘I am not really sure what the point is’. I have given this some thought in the few days since I read it and I think my problem might have been the library element, or maybe how the library element was played out. I love books, I love libraries and so does the young boy yet by the end of the book they become a sinister place rather than an exciting one and I didn’t get the feeling he would go back. That to me is not the moral of a good story. Libraries should be seen as exciting places of escapism and adventure should they? Or am I taking it all too literally?


If I give myself a good shake, and tell myself not to be such a bloody critic, I think it is brilliantly bonkers. There should be something other worldly about libraries and all the information they house. Plus with the wonderful interspersed images from books (be it the library card, the end papers, some of the text, some of the illustrations) from The London Library there is a real homage to them. So all in all a quirky dark unsettling bizarre fairytale and also a brilliant, rather bonkers and incredibly beautiful book!

What does this mean for my year of reading ahead? Well hopefully that I am off to have some wonderful adventures with some unusual and exciting books, which is all I could ask for really – as long as no one tries to eat my brains out. (Note – I have read two absolute corkers, both incredibly original too so it’s working and am now reading another.) It has also reminded me I need to read more Murakami, I do love his inventiveness and craziness. What about all of you, do you have New Years reading rituals? What is the first book you have picked for the year?



Filed under Haruki Murakami, Harvill Secker Books, Review

Library Loot & Temptation Test

I was unsure how to use the library with my book buying ban as it doesn’t really stick to my ‘reading through the books I own’ goal. However after some thought I decided that not only would this be helpful for book group choices if I didn’t own them, it also promotes libraries and that is also a good thing. I can only take out a certain number of books out at a time and read them all by the time they are due back. So what books did I get from the library, just a select five;

The Finishing School – Muriel Spark
Myself and Novel Insights have been plotting a little Spark-ish something for the spring and so I am hoarding up as many Sparks as I can just for that, more on that in due course.

Memories of a Novelist – Virginia Woolf
Though my initial reading experience may not have been a favourite book of mine there is no denying that Woolf is an amazing writer and so I thought I would give this selection of short stories a whirl, and they are Hesperus Press what more could you want?

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
I can’t work out if I actually want to read this or if its like bloggers peer pressure and because I have seen so many of you raving about it a book I wouldn’t normally be interested in has been niggling at me for a read, it was this or Eclipse so I thought I would try this out. I didn’t get the sequel as have heard it’s not great. We will see how I get on with this I don’t want to read it when am not in just the right mood.

After Dark – Haruki Murakami
After loving my second journey into the fictional world of Murakami I spied this on the shelves and decided that I couldn’t not. Its one of his most recent and also its one of his shortest so thought would give it a whirl. I have some of his here but isn’t it funny how when you own an authors work it’s the other ones you want to read?

The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton
I have seen a few bloggers mentioning this and I feel it could be on the Orange list, I have no reason for that at all I just do, I think this will be getting a lot more attention when it comes out in paper back it also sounds quite fascinating and slightly provocative with its tale of a high school sex scandal which is then put on as a play in schools.

So that’s my lot from the library. I should add that you should be extremely proud of me as my visit to the library proved to be very tempting. Not because I could have come away with many more loans but because of this…

A Bloody Book Sale

Typical isn’t it? I go somewhere which I deem ‘book binge safe’ and there is a huge table or three of 10p and 20p bargains. I did have a browse and you would be even more impressed as some of the titles were very me, but I walked away with nothing so I have survived my first big temptation and feel quite pleased. I will add that I didn’t dare walk in any second hand shops on the way or on the way back though, they don’t have library stickers or those crinkly see through covers on.


Filed under Book Thoughts, Haruki Murakami, Muriel Spark, Virginia Woolf

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

I haven’t read any Murakami for ages, well I have only read one, and that was Kafka on the Shore which I loved and had fond memories of. That was about three years ago though and we all know how our tastes can change. This months book group choice saw us reading what many people deem to be Murakami’s greatest work ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ originally published as a series of three books in Japan but brought together in one giant doorstep of a book here in the UK. Would I love the surreal world of Murakami once more?

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is the tale of Toru Okada who when we meet him is cooking spaghetti at home for breakfast. Toru is unemployed after quitting his career in law and stays home while his wife works, does the shopping, the cleaning and is sent on errands, the latest being to find their missing cat. It is from this time that we drop into his world and so happens to be the day everything changes for him. He gets a random call from a woman which is of a very explicit nature who knows him and yet he has never met her. He visits the local ‘haunted house’ and meets one of his young neighbours a girl obsessed with death. He also meets the mysterious sisters Malta and Crete Kano one who is a psychic and hunting for his cat though no one asked her too, the other has spent half her life so far in never ending pain and then in numbness. Within weeks Toru’s wife then disappears and Toru must go on a journey with some of these crazy characters, and many more, as he has to explore his past, present and his future in order to try and find his wife.

Now being a Murakami that is not all that is involved in the book and we are sent off into the pasts of all the characters that he then meets. Some who have seen such violent things as the skinning of a man (which I couldn’t stop reading but disturbed me no end) or another who tells the tale of a zoo and its creatures killed in war. There are also tales of suburban suicides, prostitution, depression, rape, the supernatural, love that should never have been, marriage and much more. You get the feeling that though Toru is named ‘Mr Wind Up Bird’ this is less his chronicles and more the chronicles of those he meets along the way who all have different tales to tell. It’s like Toru is a vehicle for many things that Murakami wants to tell you or draw your attention to, sometimes it also seems its just Murakami’s whim. You may not get every tale or off shoot subplot nicely tied up at the end and some stories lead you off to nowhere and then just drop you, but that is all part of the magic of Murakami.

What was perfect with this book was having book group pretty much straight after I finished it. In fact the very same thing happened with Kafka on the Shore. I do find it helps to have a good old chin wag after you have read a Murakami as though it is utterly delightful to be sent of into such surreal, or as I like to call it ‘utterly doolally but brilliant’, territory you can come away thinking ‘what?’ In fact as we all said sometimes you would be worried as you read it that your mind had wandered because in a page it can change so much or become so bizarre, you flick back and find no, that’s just Murakami. I liked this book a lot, the final third part of the book I didn’t gel with so much. Overall though it was balmy brilliance… Sometimes confusing but ultimately enthralling.

If you haven’t read Murakami you should, I would try Kafka on the Shore first though, I wish I had a blog when I read it I could go back and see my thoughts on him at the time, shucks! I definitely want to read more of his work the question is which one should I try after this (I am not reading him two in a row that would be madness)? Who else has read him and what would you recommend next?


Filed under Book Group, Haruki Murakami, Review, Vintage Books

Snow & The Last Loot

Isn’t it amazing how snow (which we get almost every year) seems to cause no end of issues? It’s only frozen water. Maybe it’s just the northerner in me who had to trek almost a mile to school down steeply inclined hills and back up them daily even if we were 6 inches deep in snow who finds the drama in London a little hard to digest? If anyone has been to Matlock Bath you will know that when I say steep I mean virtually quarried hills. Here is a picture Gran sent me this morning, we used to live on the big hill opposite which is surrounded by valleys which you can’t see sadly but you get the gist.

So I find all the British snowy panic in the press seems a bit excessive, if you’re snowed in you get more time to read and it looks lovely! I am glad though that after two whole days of freezing weather with no boiler I am looking at the snow in the heat once more. The grump that living and working from home in no heat caused you might imagine was quite horrific, but it’s distracted me from the fact I have not been able to buy a book since my last mad loot last Thursday. I thought I would share that with you today. So here are the last books I bought before midnight struck on the 31st of December.

  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski
  • The Late Hector Kipling – David Thewlis
  • DeNiro’s Game – Rawi Hage
  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  • Bad Girls – Mary Flanagan

  • Ordinary Thunderstorms – William Boyd
  • Alligator – Lisa Moore
  • An Elergy For Easterly – Petina Gappah (you may notice two here, this is because I will be giving away one to one of you, I am always thinking of you guys)
  • Friendly Fires – Alaa Al Aswany
  • Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami
  • Cobwebs and Cream Tea’s – Mary Mackie
  • The Queen of the Tambourine – Jane Gardham
  • The Unbearable Likeness of Being – Milan Kundera
  • Scoop – Evelyn Waugh (had this already but not in this orange series I collect)
  • The Lure – Felice Picano

I think a final £6 spree for fifteen books isn’t bad is it? So did I do ok, what books of these have you read and what did you think?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, Haruki Murakami, Petina Gappah, William Boyd

Books of the Noughties

I feel a little like all I have been doing of late is compiling lists. If it wasn’t the two lists for best books of 2009 for next week, or books for 2010 for both work (I now have the books page in the magazine hoorah) and for the blog then it was shopping lists for the family Christmas presents, even though not seeing most of them till the end of January, and the never ending Christmas food fest shopping list. This is the list that has proved the most difficult.

I will admit that it’s really only since 2006 that my reading got out of hand. It’s interesting that that was also a year where escapism was the thing that I needed the most, it wasn’t the happiest year – well until I met The Converted One – a long bad relationship ended and I had a rather huge health scare all in all not the best. Yet the positive that came out of that year, roughly from February on, was that I utterly embraced my love for books again. I had been reading but maybe one book every month or so.

Now you would think in the nearly four years its been I wouldn’t have read that many of ‘the books of the noughties’ but this list has taken ages, books have been fighting with each other its been carnage. I have always preferred contemporary fiction to classics (though this has changed rather a lot this year) looking back over my blog and pre-blog ‘books I have read’ lists which I compile each year I have actually consumed quite a few though not all the big contenders I have seen in the papers. So bearing in mind I haven’t read every great book since 2000 (not that we will all agree on the great books since then, Cloud Atlas for example which I loathed) here are the books that made my top ten of the noughties with their blurbs, I could write a paragraph on each of them but am a) listed out and b) I loved them end of…

The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. His disappearances are spontaneous and his experiences are alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s passionate love for each other with grace and humour. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. “The Road” boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Small Island – Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. Murakami’s new novel is at once a classic tale of quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is an entertainment of a very high order.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character. As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

Laura Chase’s older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister’s tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one; while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama. 

Atonement – Ian McEwan

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

This is the story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of grandeur) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. Suddenly at the age of 12, Augusten found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian house in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients and a paedophile living in the garden shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules or school. The Christmas tree stayed up until Summer and valium was chomped down like sweets. When things got a bit slow, there was always the ancient electroshock therapy machine under the stairs.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusack

Here is a small fact – you are going to die. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – Death will visit the book thief three times.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley

The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century’s signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Nancy, the scalding wit who parlayed her family life into bestselling novels. Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home. Debo, who adored pleasure and fun, and found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life. Jessica, the runaway, a communist and fighter for social change. The Mitfords became myth in their own time: the great wits and beauties of their age, they were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people. Virtually spanning the century, these letters between the sisters — alternately touching and explosive — constitute a superb social chronicle, and explore with disarming intimacy their shifting relationships. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontes has a single family written so much about themselves, or been so written about. Their letters are widely recognized to contain the best of their writing. Mosley, Diana’s niece, will select from an archive of 18,000, to which she has exclusive access.

So that is your lot, not necessarily in order as it changes every hour or so. As I said lots of books fought for the top ten spot and I could easily have added The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Child 44, What Was Lost, On Chesil Beach, The Kite Runner, Notes on a Scandal, The Secret Scripture and many many more. A top 40 would have been good but might have been somewhat excessive. It has made me think how difficult doing this in 2020 will be considering I read so much more now. Anyway, this is my list in all its (some of you may think questionable) glory. What are your top books of the noughties? Oh and what do we call the next decade, the tensies, the teens?


Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Augusten Burroughs, Charlotte Mosley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Marcus Zusack, Margaret Atwood