Haruki MurakamiI first read A Wild Sheep Chase when I was in high school in the ’90s. The novel was bizarre and engaging. The writing was casual and the first-person narrator pulled me in. After reading that novel by Haruki Murakami, I went on a spree reading everything I could find.

Now, after 190+ pages of Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, I’m calling it quits. His novels have grown repetitive and derivative. The originality that captured my attention in his early work is now just recycled, a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.

So far in Killing Commendatore, not much has happened. There is a mysterious well, a ringing bell, a mysterious wealthy stranger, and a down-on-his-luck middle-aged man who is the protagonist. I don’t have the time or interest to slog through 500 more pages of re-hashed story. I’d rather read the Wikipedia entry instead.

So what makes Murakami so repetitive?

  • First-person, middle-aged male narrator who is “between things” somehow, like he lost his job or his girlfriend/wife left him, or both. Sort of a blank, normal guy.
  • A well or some empty vessel (said vessel may be a person).
  • Cats.
  • Swimming as a hobby.
  • Enjoys spaghetti.
  • There will be a woman with some imperfection or flaw that the man will love or find endearing.
  • More cats.
  • Something weird happens.
  • Narrator reacts to weird thing and is an entryway for the reader into a world where weird things happen.
  • Jazz or the Beatles will be referenced.
  • More cats this time eating spaghetti.

At this point, I’m off to find my next great read. If you’re looking for a wonderful book that takes place in Japan, I recommend Pachinko.

Do you have any writers that you enjoyed but then found their work became stale and repetitive?

2 Comments

William

What have you got against cats, buddy?

You make a nice point. I’ve only read Hard-boiled Wonderland, an early book, and enjoyed it well enough, though I understand it to be atypical of the author, but sameness can be disappointing.

But have you read any John Banville? A person could make a list of all the similarities between his novels and their protagonists, but that is precisely what I love about them. I know going in that I’m going to get a story of a depressed, lost, guilt-ridden older man near his deathbed who is writing something of a confessional about love and sex and guilt and obsession and the personal failings that led it all to collapse upon itself, leaving our haunted narrator alone with these distant version of himself and those he cared for. Any every time, the story is so well done, with such great language, that I sort of like getting this kind of emotional beating. (Ancient Light is the one I most remember and most recommend.) The point is, something about his well crafted sameness makes it feel an intentional oeuvre rather than a writer who has maybe lost his story.

Hope this find you well, Tim!

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Tim Lepczyk

I like cats, but cats in every novel?

I haven’t read anything by Banville, but will check him out. To your point of the repetitiveness feeling good, I understand that, but in this case the execution was much worse than in Murakami’s previous novels. It felt more like a writer trying to create a book by assembling the formula that worked in previous novels, but without passion or a good idea.

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