As many, many people now know, I have recently embarked on writing an epic fantasy novel, The Kraken and the Clock Tower. My big worry during this writing process is accidentally stealing ideas from other authors, so I am taking a break from reading fantasy, at least for the next couple of months. This feature will chronicle what I read instead, and some general thoughts on it all.
In the last one of these I did, I talked about how, after reading essentially four crime novels in a row, I began to burn out on the genre a little bit. To be really honest, I was kind of missing fantasy already. So, I decided to cheat a little bit. I figured for my next book, I’d read a Murakami. His books tend to be set in the real world of contemporary Japan, but with a bit of magical realism thrown in. It was a way of getting a quick fantasy fix without breaking the break. What could go wrong?
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
It turns out, I can go wrong by picking a Murakami book with no magic in it at all. Make no mistake, Norwegian Wood was as well written as the previous novels I’ve read by him (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and Dance Dance Dance) but it was an altogether different sort of story. Whereas the previous books were madcap adventures in their own way, Norwegian Wood felt a lot more autobiographical, to the point where I believe it could be mistaken for a memoir in places.
The story itself centres around Watanabe, a university student at the start of the 70’s, and his on again off again love affairs with Naoko, the girlfriend of his former best friend Kizuki, and Midori, an impulsive fellow student who lives above a book store.
I won’t lie, the story was bleak and a little depressing. It practically opened with Kizuki’s suicide, and then followed the most directionless Watanabe through a series of encounters, all against the backdrop of political upheaval. Though despite all the negativity within the story, Murakami has a way with words that managed to pull me through. I’m not sure how he does it, but he has a way of making even the most mundane scene seem like the most interesting thing I’ve ever read. It’s fascinating, and something I wish I could do myself.
Run to the Hills by Mick Wall
It’s no secret that my favourite band is Iron Maiden. I’ve seen them live twelve times, most recently in Luxembourg earlier this year. After the unexpected heaviness of Norwegian Wood, I decided to go for something I knew to be a bit lighter. Fun fact: I originally planned to go onto Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, which I have still managed to not read.
Run to the Hills is an okay book. It covers the period from the band’s formation through to the release of their 2003 album Dance of Death and the subsequent tour. By far, the early chapters are the most interesting. Charting the turbulent line up, and the band’s rise through the East End. It’s all very readable and, dare I say, exciting.
Unfortunately, the book does start to fizzle out around the halfway mark. It’s not really Mick Wall’s fault or anything, just that the band really conquered the world around 1984, with barely a problem since. The whole narrative took on a sort of album/tour/album/tour structure, which was inevitably less interesting. And the last few chapters are basically a puff piece after Bruce Dickinson returned to the band.
So, not awful. And a nice easy read over a couple of days. But the quality felt very unbalanced in a way that made it easier to put down at the end of a chapter in the second half.