Pinball, 1973

Haruki Murakami

Book cover

This is one of Murakami’s first two novels (the other being “Hear The Wind Sing”), neither of which was translated into English on a large scale. Each was translated in a small batch in Japan, I think for Japanese people who wanted to practice English. I got interested in reading these two after reading “A Wild Sheep Chase”, which forms a trilogy with them (“Dance Dance Dance” is also related, so maybe it’s a tetralogy). I looked on Amazon and while there are a few copies of each being sold used, the cheapest “Pinball, 1973” was around $500! (There are some reasonably priced copies of HTWS.) Anyway, just on a lark, I put them on my Amazon wishlist, in case any cheaper copies surfaced. When I was home for Thanksgiving, my dad showed me that he had gotten a copy through university interlibrary loan, and had made a little photocopied booklet version for me to take home. (It’s under 200 very small pages.) Lovely! I read it in about two days.

The book itself was pretty interesting, too. I can see how it (as well as AWSC) is not as refined as his later, more popular work, but I actually like it quite a bit. In contrast to much of his published work, nothing truly mystical or fantastical happens in P1973. The narrator early on describes conversations with people from Venus and Saturn, but these seem clearly intended not to be taken literally. There are certainly surreal elements, like the twins who live with the narrator, but everything’s within the realm of possibility.

P1973 is short, but after finishing it, I felt like there was still a lot of meaning in it that I hadn’t unpacked, and I definitely think I will re-read it in the future. It’s interesting to me how he tells the stories of the narrator and The Rat in parallel (and the stories have many similarities), but he never brings the two together at all, despite the fact that the two are supposed to be friends, and despite the common postmodern practice of weaving together seemingly-unrelated narratives. (They do come together in AWSC.) The most interesting metaphysical issue that he raises is the significance of entrances and exits. He only talks about this explicitly when he’s naming the twins, but it seems important throughout the work. As far as I can tell, his point is that only things with both entrances and exits can be healthy, and that things without one or the other are twisted and corrupt. Not sure whether pinball machines should be considered to have either or both, but I think he definitely depicts them as “lacking an exit”. I also thought he did a good job of exploring the issue of transference in this short piece, with regard to the narrator’s girlfriend and the pinball machine.

If you’re interested in borrowing the photocopy packet, let me know! It’s already on to another borrower.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars