Haruki Murakami did not consider himself an author until the age of thirty, when, seemingly on a whim, he began to write his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, in the spring of 1978 after watching a baseball game. Since then, over twenty of his fictional novels have been translated into English, along with a number of non-fiction novels, essays, and short stories. Because all of his works feature repeated elements like quirky characters, recurring symbols, and pervasive surrealism, one could theoretically replicate his unique writing style by learning these repeated components.
One cannot discuss Murakami without acknowledging his exemplary use of surrealism. Scenes flow from one setting to the next, and strange, hyperbolic events happen with little buildup or explanation. For example, one scene in Kafka on the Shore features fish falling from the sky with little explanation besides recent personal development from the character, Nakata; similarly, Aomame and Tengo in 1Q84 travel from one sci-fi location to the next with unrealistic ease. While his works span from the genres of science fiction to mystery, surrealism remains present in his writing style because it aids him in frequently exploring themes like self-discovery. Surrealism also contextualizes many of his frequently used stylistic elements.
People who have read any of Murakami’s autobiographical works might know that he has previously owned a jazz bar and collects vinyl records to this day. As an author, Murakami’s love of music continues to permeate his writing. He derived the name for Norwegian Wood from a Beatles’ song, and named the three books of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles after operas and piano compositions. The characters he writes also often share his love of music, listening to Beethoven in Kafka on the Shore or playing guitar in Norwegian Wood.
By integrating music into his stories so frequently, not only do readers understand the importance of music to him and his characters, but the stories become grounded in the real world by referencing familiar pieces of music. This prevents his surrealist settings from feeling entirely detached from reality. Characters and settings feel more familiar by referencing music from our world.
While not every novel features this demographic of protagonists, Murakami’s most popular novels follow a young man through a coming-of-age story. The story often details the main character fighting an internal, unconscious battle with secondary characters whose struggles are externalized. While his main characters feel relatable and work through realistic struggles, admittedly, he has received criticism for how some of his other characters, mostly the women, read as one-dimensional tropes or stereotypes of prototypical female characters.
Understanding his characters, particularly the supporting characters, as surrealist caricatures who reflect the protagonist’s internal struggles makes their heightened characteristics fit with the rest of his exaggerated stories. Although his unique and distinctive style can create seemingly unrealistic characters, keep in mind that these over-the-top characters exist in a similarly exaggerated setting. In this way, writing caricaturish characters allows readers to apply their own lived experiences to the struggles of the protagonist, and the hyperbolic style allows Murakami to magnify his character’s internal battles.
I suspect that one can attribute a lot of Murakami’s popularity to his eccentric writing style. After reading multiple novels of his, one will notice larger recurring themes as well as smaller stylistic commonalities. For instance, a number of his novels use cats as a symbol or a physical manifestation of a character’s internal conflict. While another author might edit this repetitive symbol out of his works, Murakami embraces this small, repeated element of his writing. This exemplifies what I find most appealing about reading Murakami: the reflection of the author in the novel. No one can perfectly replicate his writing style because the quirks, and the humanistic elements in his novels come from his unique authorial voice.