Web of Stories Part 2: A Sonata for Murakami
Spring was late, and so was I.
Synopsis: A young Tokyo record store clerk falls in love in a chance encounter
The beautiful thing about Ghostwritten is that you can read every chapter as a short story. And honestly, not much of the meaning of each episode is lost thinking about the book in this way. But together they become some giant version of Haruki Murakami’s “Chance Traveller”, with events in one story triggering vital events in the next. These character’s lives are literally being ghostwritten by one another.
And in this section, Mitchell proves that he too can ghostwrite. This reads almost exactly like a Murakami short story. The constant references to jazz music. The Bildungsroman of the narrator, Satoru. The sheer Japaneseness of the writing. And while Mitchell will go on to develop this style into a full novel in number9dream, inserting a love letter to his favorite author is not a reason enough for this to be here. I think I have some ideas
The Human World is Made of Stories
If the Okinawa section is a story about a man struggling to define his hatred, this a story about a man struggling to define love and belonging. In Japan, these two seemingly contrasting ideas are fundamentally intertwined. The mild disgust that even Satoru shows to westerners interweaves with his generation’s use of American culture as a weapon against their parents. Takeshi’s lust for women and his hatred for his own philandering ways can’t seem to escape from one another. Satoru himself cannot reconcile the comfort of “his place” with the need to leave it to be with Tomoyo. Fear of the foreign. Love of the foreign. Need for stability. Need for leaving.
And then there is also the manipulation of the narrative by chance events written by David Mitchell. Quasar’s call to a wrong number in the last chapter is what causes Satoru to be in the store when Tomoyo walks in; which in turn, allows their relationship to begin. This is the first of many dominoes to fall, allowing the events at the end of the book to pass. If this had just been a stand-alone short story or novelette, this would seem like some crazy deus ex machina by Mitchell. Satoru even comments on this: “for a moment I had an odd sensation of being in a story that someone was writing”(55). However, that is in fact the very point of Ghostwritten: the human world may be a collection of chance events, but out of the muck we can always seem to craft a story.
Everything is About Wanting
This story, in particular, seems to be very much about wanting. Or rather that wanting is not the way to contentment/meaning/happiness. That there is another path. As Satoru puts it: “if not love, the what?”(62).
One could argue that love is just another kind of wanting. Love is just a secretion of chemicals barely indistinguishable from lust. But I don’t think that that is the argument Mitchell is trying to make here. There is a very clear distinction between Takeshi’s “few bite marks, about three seconds worth of organsm if you’re lucky, a pleasant drowse for thirty minutes, and when you come to you suddenly realize you’ve become a lecherous, lying sleazebag who’s flushing several million sperm and six years of marriage down the toilet”(50) and Satoru’s choice to not sleep with Tomoyo because it “would have closed an entrance behind us”(62). One clearly has the moral high ground over the other, just from how they are described. Yet also, one seems to be much sustainable than the other. Lust and want seem to be only captured in the moment: a fleeting cherry blossom falling from a tree. Love is more permanent. Love is thinking about Tomoyo fifteen times a day.
The Her That Lived in Her Looked out Through Her Eyes and Through My Eyes and at The Me That Lives in Me
But what is love in the first place? Koji claims “you have to know someone intimately to be able to love them”(49). Yet he also recognizes the existence of love at first sight, reconciling the two ideas with “some sort of mystical gigabyte downloading of information from one mind into the other”(49). But maybe there doesn’t have to be a download. Maybe all the information you need to love someone is already within all of us. Maybe all it takes to see that is a spark: eyes meeting in a record store, a thrown baseball bat and a detention, a little bit of yourself in the boy behind the counter. Perhaps it is not that hard to love our fellow human beings. Perhaps we should try a little harder.
She pulsed invisibly like a quasar
The cherry blossoms were suddenly there. Magic, frothing and bubbling and there just above our heads filling the air with color too delicate for words like “pink” of “white.
“Because….” I remember her body wrapped inside my duffle coat as we walked along, sharing the same umbrella.
“Might the answer be ‘love’ ”
Things to Keep in Mind
- The foreigner wearing a shirt with a bat flying around a skyscraper
- Mr. Ikeda also taught Satoru in high school as well. He was apparently a big Yukio Mishima fan, although not very well read. Mishima was a radical Japanese nationalist, not unlike a certain perpetrator of the Sarin Gas Attacks
- “I’ll probably never know the truth, unless I get rich enough to hire a private detective”-another character will do exactly this in number9dream
- “None of that capital of Mongolia stuff”-turns out the capital of Mongolia will actually be pretty important later on….
Till next time, in Hong Kong
-Ser Jacob de Zoet