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Town Of Cats
August 29, 2011 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Town Of Cats is a new story by cult Japanese author Haruki Murakami.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (48 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is not Cat-town.
posted by oonh at 8:37 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cult? I don't think that word really applies to Murakami. He's one of the top selling authors in Japan, he has a very wide following (in translation) internationally, and his name always seems to be bubbling up when the Nobel Prize is being discussed. I love the guy, and have read most of his translated stuff, but cult isn't the word you're looking for.

Enjoying the story so far, though, thanks for the post.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:39 PM on August 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


It worked as a short story but it's actually an excerpt from his upcoming 1Q84.
posted by Rinku at 8:40 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


What Ghidorah said. Dude sells a lot of books (to his great credit).
posted by bardic at 8:45 PM on August 29, 2011


I was gonna say, cult? He's in the New Yorker every few months. Good writer though.
posted by Miko at 8:50 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Murakami is as about as cult as the Presbyterian Church.
Except for the ear fetish... In this piece it was "balled ears". I don't quite understand the imagery, is it that they're balled like a wad of paper, or aluminum foil? Crinkly and small?
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:54 PM on August 29, 2011


DEEDLE DOO-DOOT DEE DEE
I had to say it.

posted by JHarris at 8:56 PM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


He did write about a cult...
posted by KokuRyu at 9:05 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now what is a cult author? Ryu Murakami?

Wikipedia says this is from the upcoming 1Q84. Now I hate to say this, but after Freedom and 2666 I'm starting to get tired of these 1000 page big event literary novels.
posted by bobo123 at 9:08 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


HURR HURR HURR
posted by not_on_display at 9:09 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Please direct me to this alleged town of cats. One person's hell is another person's heaven.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:10 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weeeeel, to be fair he WAS cult back in the day. It's just that his 'cult' writing made such an impact that this Fitzgerald-loving iconoclast managed to make a significant impact on the world of literature, both globally and within Japan itself. Personally I love the man for his obsession with jazz and cats.

As an aside, I never quite understood the appeal of "Norwegian Wood". In contrast "A Wild Sheep Chase", "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" and "Underground" are books that I remembered long after I had read them.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 9:13 PM on August 29, 2011


To be fair, it wasn't first published as a 1000+ page novel. It was released as a trilogy in Japan. The English-speaking world is just getting it in one big gulp.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:23 PM on August 29, 2011


The New Yorker: A massive block of text accompanied by a cartoon that requires a terminal degree to appreciate.
posted by schmod at 9:24 PM on August 29, 2011


As a further aside, I watched the film made from "Norwegian Wood" and whatever (minimal) appeal the book had was completely lost in the movie, imo. I was very disappointed.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 9:24 PM on August 29, 2011


I saw the movie of Norwegian Wood, and I kind of liked it. I liked the novel a lot, though it's easy to see why people don't. The movie didn't have nearly the same impact, but it looked like the book should. I think there was some failure of trying to tell a story about a young, disaffected man in that the movie itself was distant and unfeeling, rather than a compelling film about that young man. A couple of scenes, though, just for visual composition alone, made the movie worth watching. That, and being on an airplane with truly poor movie options.

Of his novels, Hard Boiled/End of the World is one of my all time favorites, though The Wind up Bird Chronicle is pretty stunning. I'm not all that fond of his short fiction, but there's something about The Second Bakery Attack that I love.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:38 PM on August 29, 2011


schmod: "The New Yorker: A massive block of text accompanied by a cartoon that requires a terminal degree to appreciate."

You say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by reductiondesign at 9:38 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


That story was lacking; far too sentimental for me. I've always turned to Murakami for his ability to evoke claustrophobic worlds and the sickness of melancholy. Perhaps the full novel(s) will provide some redeeming factor.
posted by artof.mulata at 9:52 PM on August 29, 2011


Fitzgerald-loving iconoclast

Really? Interesting. I don't think of him as iconoclastic at all, least of all in the field of Japanese literature, which has some real iconoclasts tearing down older institutions etc, esp in the eighties when he became huge.

I dunno, I got so jejune on him round the time of Kafka On The Shore, which was basically an in-every-way-shitter version of Wind Up Bird Chronicle. As his books have gotten longer and less disciplined, retreading much of the same thematic ground, I found myself reading elsewhere. His best books are his shorter ones, imho.

Personally I love the man for his obsession with jazz and cats.

And handjobs. Dude can't write a book, it seems, without sneaking in a few wristies or a hand shandy.

posted by smoke at 9:55 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


That last line should not be italicised.
posted by smoke at 9:55 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not all that fond of his short fiction

It's funny how polarizing literature can be. I particularly love his shorter work, because I find it a little easier to digest than some of his more metaphysical longer pieces. If I have a criticism of Murakami --- and if you can even call it a criticism --- is that sometimes his novels blow your mind just a little too hard. (Ironically, I didn't really like Norwegian Wood because it didn't blow my mind hard enough.)

I guess my favourite of his has to be Hard-Boiled Wonderland because it hit that sweet spot and blew my mind just enough. Like, it completely upended everything I thought about life and my own psyche, but was never too uncomfortable or disorienting. And the final few chapters have to be one of the most bizarre and touching encomia in modern literature --- if you can even call it that, because I'm not even totally, exactly sure what happened at the end (nor is anybody, I guess.)

Anyway, enjoying this story so far. Having lived in Tokyo and travelled to and through many of the places he mentions gives it that much more of an edge for me.
posted by Tiresias at 9:57 PM on August 29, 2011


To be fair, it wasn't first published as a 1000+ page novel. It was released as a trilogy in Japan. The English-speaking world is just getting it in one big gulp.

Not true. Japanese novels (as well as foreign novels published in Japanese) are almost always split into two volumes, or three volumes for longer books. I'm not sure why this is, though I would guess publishers simply make more profit that way. In any event, 1Q84 is a single novel, not a trilogy.
posted by zardoz at 10:15 PM on August 29, 2011


I know nothing of Japanese publishing, but I do know it wasn't simply split at the time of publishing because the third volume came out a year later than parts one and two. It is probably fair though to call it a single novel.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:23 PM on August 29, 2011


JG Ballard helped me realize that anything's cooler if it's prefixed by "terminal". Unless it's a disease.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:49 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair, it wasn't first published as a 1000+ page novel. It was released as a trilogy in Japan.

Not true. Japanese novels (as well as foreign novels published in Japanese) are almost always split into two volumes, or three volumes for longer books. I'm not sure why this is, though I would guess publishers simply make more profit that way. In any event, 1Q84 is a single novel, not a trilogy.

Well, it is common to split books up like this, but the fact remains that volume 3 wasn't published until a year after the first two were. That isn't how publishers normally do things for single works that happen to be split into multiple volumes.

(Also, my recollection is that when volumes 1-2 were released, there was no talk of a third, and the eventual announcement of volume 3 came as a surprise to many. This may have just been Murakami being secretive, though, I suppose.)
posted by No-sword at 12:16 AM on August 30, 2011


As far as the volumes go, a lot of books are published in separate volumes. Nearly all of the Harry Potter translations were released as three volume sets. If there's any actual reason, I would imagine it has to do with portability. One standard volume in Japan is usually quite slim and compact, and easy to read on the train. Anyone who's lugged around any Potter book in English can easily understand the benefit of that.

With 1Q84, what I'd heard was that the third volume had been essentially unplanned, that he'd written it as a follow up, though I have no way to cite how I heard that. It came out quite a while after the first two volumes.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:29 AM on August 30, 2011


Excited for this book and love Murakami!

He's like Tarantino except with ears instead of feet and great instead of terrible.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:37 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I particularly love his shorter work

I'll just add that his story "A Slow Boat To China" belongs in those anthologies they give to every school kid in the world. The last page is one of the most moving things I've ever read.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:41 AM on August 30, 2011


The protagonist had a meal within the first three paragraphs but did not pair it with a bottle of beer. B- Murakami, must try harder.
posted by minifigs at 1:24 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I had no idea I was a member of a cult.
posted by the bricabrac man at 2:33 AM on August 30, 2011


In other recent Murakami news, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is now a play.
posted by psoas at 4:58 AM on August 30, 2011


I had no idea I was a member of a cult.

I'm not sure any active cult member does.
posted by Malor at 4:58 AM on August 30, 2011


That last line should not be italicised.

I don't know, smoke, it gave a sort of early-Lovecraft feel to the comment. You know:

and then I realized the ghastly abyss; it was. to my dawning horror -- a few wristies or a hand shandy!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:56 AM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Japanese novels (as well as foreign novels published in Japanese) are almost always split into two volumes, or three volumes for longer books. I'm not sure why this is, though I would guess publishers simply make more profit that way.

It's mostly tradition, I think. Japanese popular books were often published as 百円本, "100 yen books." Most paperbacks are still sold in this format, although they cost way more than 100 yen. For example, I have a Japanese edition of "Norwegian Wood" in English, it is in 2 volumes, marked with the traditional 上 and 下, top half and bottom half. Japan is weird about paper sizes (and thus book dimensions) since many standard paper sizes were established hundreds of years ago. And everyone already has book shelves at this size.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading this excerpt of 1Q84. I'm thinking of ordering the Japanese edition so I can read it in the original language, but these days, Murakami doesn't seem to be worth the effort. IMHO he went totally mental when he was at Princeton. When he returned to Japan and wrote "Underground," he actually argued that those damn modern Harajuku kids were a threat to Japan since they were an attack on innate Japaneseness, just as Aum Shinrikyo was, and get off of my lawn! And you ought to read his travelogues, which will never ever be translated into English. I read one (traveling Morocco IIRC) and all he did was complain that the scenery was ugly, the bus service sucked, and the food was so bad that he had to have sushi FedExed from Japan. Murakami has become an awful crank in his later years.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:06 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Murakami has become an awful crank in his later years.

Oh crud. My desire to read Murakami in the original is one reason why I keep pushing Japanese into my tired old brain. I may find the payoff not worth it...
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:20 AM on August 30, 2011


OK, more about the story. I like this line a lot:

His father, however, had no idea that this vivid scene existed in Tengo’s memory, or that, like a cow in a meadow, Tengo was endlessly regurgitating fragments of it to chew on, a cud from which he obtained essential nutrients.

It has much of what I like about Murakami -- a strong image (part humorous, part odd, and part disturbing), a sense of loss, a hint at an inner life greatly at odds with surfaces, and the theme of estrangement.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on August 30, 2011


I was reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on the subway, and this really crazy lookin' lady (like, Amy Winehouse plus thirty years) came up to me and sort of shook me and said "You're reading it!" and kind of gazed at me, all glassy-eyed. And then she proceeded to tell me about a particularly graphic part of the novel that I hadn't got to yet. (there's only one real part like this, if you've read it, you know which part). I thought she was batshit crazy, because what she described had nothing at all to do with the story I had read so far...

...and when I did get to that part, it felt natural and uncanny simultaneously, as everything I've read by him does. I don't know what it is about him - he can write about the most mundane things and the most graphic things, and link them together as if presenting you with imagery in a dream, and you don't question it.





I didn't even know you could have sushi FedEx'd from Japan. I'm going to try that.
posted by bxyldy at 8:42 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on the subway, and this really crazy lookin' lady (like, Amy Winehouse plus thirty years) came up to me and sort of shook me and said "You're reading it!" and kind of gazed at me, all glassy-eyed. And then she proceeded to tell me about a particularly graphic part of the novel that I hadn't got to yet.

"Do you read Sutter Kane?" ::axes::
posted by FatherDagon at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I really enjoy Murakami but Kafka on the Shore was equal parts lousy and terribly disturbing and I haven't really recovered.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:33 AM on August 30, 2011


> Oh crud. My desire to read Murakami in the original is one reason why I keep pushing Japanese into my tired old brain. I may find the payoff not worth it...

Don't worry, you may find sufficient payoff just from reading his early short stories like "TV People" and "The Elephant Vanishes." But if you really want to torture yourself, I think I could dig up that Morocco travelogue and send it to you.

If you want to read what I consider the moment Murakami went insane, read this essay, No Bringing in Japanese Lunch with A Pickled Apricot. He muses on his privileged life at Princeton, and then in the last two paragraphs, basically gives an apologia for racism.

> I didn't even know you could have sushi FedEx'd from Japan. I'm going to try that.

Well you can if you're Murakami. IIRC he made his agent send it, packed in dry ice.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:02 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now I hate to say this, but after Freedom and 2666 I'm starting to get tired of these 1000 page big event literary novels.

To be fair, it wasn't first published as a 1000+ page novel. It was released as a trilogy in Japan. The English-speaking world is just getting it in one big gulp.

2666 was meant, by Bolano, to be published in four parts - it was his family that decided to release it as one book.

Also Freedom was defo not 1,000+ pages. Was it?
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2011


I read Underground while living and working in Japan, and it really drove home the fact that my work ethic is just not up to Japanese standards. The first-hand accounts of people experiencing symptoms of sarin gas exposure, then hearing about the gas attacks and realizing they may have been on one of those trains, and staying at work.
posted by Hoopo at 10:55 AM on August 30, 2011


I was astonished to discover the English edition of Underground was quite different than the Japanese edition. He edited his rant about those damn kids these days and their offenses against the Japanese people, because they do not "think the way people should" (意識のあり方) and he added a whole new ending to the book that he presumably thought was more fit for a non-Japanese audience. It felt like an entirely different book.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2011


I've always had a hard time reconciling his popularity in Japan with the flat-out weirdness of his writing. Does anyone know whether his works just seems weird because I am a tone-deaf American that doesn't understand Japanese literary tropes and culture, or is it weird even to the Japanese?
posted by rtimmel at 12:56 PM on August 30, 2011


i have been pushing Murakami since reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland in college approximately one hundred years ago. Kafka on the Shore was the first of his books to really disappoint me, and I haven't cared for his books much since.

But everything up til then really had me. Even now, I can pick up Wild Sheep Chase and enjoy it, right through the end of Dance Dance Dance. I also picked up Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 recently--his first two novels. They are not great, and are pretty obviously early work, but are of interest to those who liked Wild Sheep Chase (they are concerned with The Rat and J of J's Bar, though not strictly required reading as prequels). They are about 20$ each of Amazon.

All that said, I am pretty eager for 1Q84 and have already preordered.

And I heard him speak at Berkeley a couple of years back, and he was self-effacing and honest. He did not seem like a crank to me.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:27 PM on August 30, 2011


Yes, the Japanese think he's weird too. One common criticism is that his works are "too American."
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:32 PM on August 30, 2011


A lot of Japanese people think he's pretty odd. My wife doesn't like him, and didn't finish 1Q84. Evidently his prose style in Japanese is a bit off to a lot of Japanese people, as well.

I think Sputnik Sweetheart is where I started to treasure his old writing more (code for thinking his new stuff just isn't the same). Sputnik reads almost like a different version of South of the Border, just not as good, and Kafka had it's moments, but didn't pull me in the way that his other novels have. Rather than being sucked into the story and the (as mentioned above) the mundane weirdness of his characters' lives, I felt like an observer to the novel, and not entirely drawn to the characters. I'm hoping I'll like the new one more.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:59 PM on August 30, 2011


I enjoyed the story. Looking forward to IQ84. Also, I want to find more of his stories in the New Yorker's archives.
posted by dragonplayer at 9:37 PM on August 30, 2011


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