The earth moved

after the quake

By Haruki Murakami

Alan Bennett, stridently opposed to library closure, may use curious language to make his arguments, but the fact is that libraries bring a great deal of joy. Most recently, my library brought me joy’s Japanese herder, Haruki Murakami.

When a friend remarked that the recent quake and tsunami in Japan will inspire a great deal of cultural production from that country over the coming years, I was reminded that Murakami had written a collection of stories after the 1995 Kobe earthquake. The same evening I passed my library, which is running a Murakami promotion, and there in the window sat the very same book, after the quake. A few moments later, after an impulse-loan, I was striding down the high street with the book in my hand. Had the library have been a bookshop requiring money, I would have passed on. So, yes, libraries rule OK.

As does Murakami. His perfect and delightful prose is so absorbing that it took me no time to devour this little collection. The book includes a handful of stories about characters affected in one way or another by the earthquake in Kobe. We’re not talking about the endeavours of rubble-scouring firemen or the horror of trapped victims. Murakami is more interested in the deeper, psychological impact of the quake. So he talks of a woman who fears the quake may have broken her marriage, and a man whose very imagination may have caused the quake. What a ride.

Murakami’s controlled and structured stories feel light, like a skilled dancer who appears to float. His words are only occasionally hindered by cliché (which may be due to translation); mostly they dance and delight. But he’s about more than just le mot juste. His stories are often surreal, even daft – but they are always genuine. They are viewpoints on modern life, so subtle in their delivery that you barely notice them. A beautiful, accomplished collection.

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