Pinball, 1973 – Haruki Murakami

What the hell did I read? This is one of those books that you stop at page 10, read the back of the book again, look at the author and resume reading in hopes something will make sense eventually. Written as a collection of short stories or memories, the Author describes his young life (1967-1973) and the Japanese student movement and pinball. Loads of pinball.

This is a novel about pinball. (p19)

The author also takes time to describe his life as a freelance translator, and his later efforts to reunite with the old pinball machine that he used to play.

He describes living with a pair of identical unnamed female twins, who mysteriously appear in his apartment one morning, and disappear at the end of the book.

“Call us whatever you like.”
The girls always took turns speaking. It was like an FM stereo check, and made my head even worse.
“For instance?” I asked.
“Left and Right,” said one.
“Vertical and Horizontal,” said the other.
“Up and Down.”
“Front and Back.”
“East and West.”
“Entrance and Exit,”
I managed to get in, not to be outdone. The two of them looked at each other and laughed contentedly.

Interspersed with the narrative are his memories of the Japanese student movement, and of his old girlfriend Naoko.

The plot alternates between describing the life of narrator and that of his friend, The Rat.

The book appears to show true form and good writing but sometimes it feels like the author is rambling away, loving the sound of his own voice.

Pinball machines, however, won’t lead you anywhere. Just the replay light. Replay, replay, replay …. So persistently you’d swear a game of pinball aspired to perpetuity. We ourselves will never know much of perpetuity. But we can get a faint inkling of what it’s like. The object of pinball lies not in self-expression, but in self-revolt. Not in the expansion of the ego, but in its compression. Not in extractive analysis, but in inclusive subsumption.



So far, I have been telling this story as my very own, but it is also the story of another guy, whom we’ll call the Rat. That autumn, the two of us – he and I – were living nearly five hundred miles apart. September 1973, that’s where this novel begins. That’s the entrance. We’ll just hope there’s an exit. If there isn’t one, there wouldn’t be any point in writing anything.

This is part of Murakami’s Rat series where a character called The Rat appears. It’s even more underwhelming than it sounds. The Rat is just a moody barfly who drinks beer and doesn’t do much else – I really don’t know why Murakami kept putting him in books as a recurring character given how dull he was. It’s not even clear why he’s called The Rat, unless it’s a description of his general uselessness.

The Rat chapters read like the worst kind of pretentious arthouse movie scenes – he drinks, he smokes, he says inane drivel that I guess is intended to be profound wisdom – and I have no idea what his inclusion added to the novel; far as I can tell, it’s nothing.

The dullness continues until I was eagerly waiting to reach the halfway point and then the end of the 129 page book. I sighed a massive sigh of relief when I put the book down. Good riddance.

“We’ll meet again somewhere,” I said. “Let’s, somewhere,” said one. “Yes, somewhere,” said the other. The words echoed in my mind a moment. The bus door banged shut, the twins waved from the window. Everything was repeating itself. I retraced my steps by the exact same route, and sat in the apartment awash with autumn light listening to the copy of “Rubber Soul” the twins had left me. I brewed coffee. And the whole day through I watched that Sunday pass by my window. A tranquil November Sunday of rare clarity shining through each and every thing.

1/5  burn pile

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