Saturday, April 01, 2006

Haruki Murakami: My Part In His Downfall

For those of you keeping score, the much heralded no-holds-barred, world championship bout between, in the red corner, me, and in the blue corner, “Kafka on the Shore”, the most recent novel by Haruki Murakami, turned out to be a non-starter (sorry, no refunds). I know when I am beaten, and with three weeks in which to read a 400-plus page novel, having been hampered by a nasty cold almost from the outset, I could see that being at page 35 after two weeks was not going to get me anywhere.

So I threw the book away (not literally, I hasten to add, in case any employees of Libraries ACT happen to be reading this) and, instead, perhaps inspired by the Seth cover for the recent “Style Special” issue of the New Yorker, got stuck into some graphic novels and other words-with-pictures publications that have been crying out to be read for a while now.

Ever since I bought “Kramer’s Ergot No 5” I have been too scared to read it, anxious that I had paid $75 for something that was really not my style. Well, I needn’t have worried. Sure, there is some edgy stuff in there, but almost everything is of a stunningly high quality, meriting several reads and much lingering over individual pages. (Oh, and the quality of the production ...) There seems, now, after too many years, to be a new list of names to take note of, names like Sammy Harkham, Ron Rege Jr, Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, and others, all of whom appear in KE5, along with “big” names such as Gary Panter and Chris Ware.

Then, there is David B, a French graphic novelist who has only recently become known in the English-speaking world, by way of his astounding book “Epileptic”, an autobiographical story of growing up with an older brother stricken by a mysterious illness. But it is much more than that. It is with a book like this that you can really see how “mere” comic books can, in the right hands, convey so much more than the “pure” art of words on the page.

Or you could choose Michel Rabagliati, from Montreal, who has been putting out, over the last few years, a series of graphic stories about “Paul”, a young guy growing up and heading out into the world. “Paul” may or may not be the author in disguise. Unlike David B, Rabagliati has a clean, spare, almost “classical” comic-book style of drawing. His stories are what you might call “nice” if that word hadn’t become so pejorative in recent years. One finishes a Rabagliati book feeling that everything is not lost, after all. Which is not a bad feeling to have in this modern world-out-of-control. The most recent book of his is “Paul Moves Out”, which exists in a glorious, but sadly not inexpensive, hardcover edition from Drawn & Quarterly.

Here we give a free plug to our regular comics pusher, Peter Birkemoe at The Beguiling, all the way across the world in Toronto.

Meanwhile, back at the library, “Cosmopolis” by Don DeLillo fell off the shelves at my feet, in a provocative, throw-down challenge. Three weeks. Two hundred and nine pages. Plenty of white space. Readers, I think I can win this, even given my lack of match fitness. (I am already more than half-way through after less than a week. The bookies have closed their accounts. As to whether it is a good book, well, it is no “Underworld”, but to say as much is only to say that it is not as good as one of the great books of the (post) modern era.) Will I, though, ever go back to “Kafka on the Shore”, or has the moment passed? Experience shows that I never find it easy to go back to a book once I have put it to one side. Plus, I have read so much Murakami over the years that I do feel a little bit saturated, and anyway he regularly has short stories in the New Yorker. And, well, I have had Philip Pullman’s third “Northern Lights” novel sitting beside the bed for rather too long, and I am beginning to feel its tug. But, as if that wasn’t enough, I am also expecting a rather large parcel to land on the doorstep any day now, after its arduous journey from the wilds of Canada, with (hopefully) more comic-book goodness than I can shake a stick at.