The Sultan of Simile: Haruki Murakami

I recently finished Haruki Murakami’s wondrous novel 1Q84 and usually like to write reviews of novels I read but this is one of those books you’ve got to read to believe. Half the fun of the book is in watching the plot unfold so I’d hate to spoil any of it for a potential reader. Instead, I’d like to concentrate on one of Murakami’s many talents. The man wields a simile the way Van Gogh did a brush and Casanova his…libido.  

There are many delightful quirks to Murakami’s writing. He describes the clothing and meals his characters choose in details that reveal unexpected insight into their feelings and motivations. His descriptions of his characters’ bodies and faces are almost awkwardly intimate, as in this passage:

“Ushikawa was a short man, probably in his mid-forties. His trunk had already filled out so that it had lost all sign of a waist, and excess flesh was gathering around his throat. But Tengo could not be sure of his age. Owing to the peculiarity (or the uncommonness) of his appearance, the clues necessary for guessing his age were difficult to find. He could have been older than that, or he could have been younger – anywhere between, say, thirty-two and fifty-six. His teeth were crooked, and his spine was strangely curved. The large crown of his head formed an abnormally flat bald area with lopsided edges. It was reminiscent of a military heliport that had been made by cutting away the peak of a small, strategically important hill.”

That last line gets to the meat of his unique talent for simile. Military heliport? Some of his other insightful similes include this description of a character’s crooked teeth:

“Like seaside pilings that had been hit by huge waves, they pointed off in all directions and were befouled in a great many ways.”

Here are some descriptions of characters’ voices:
“The man’s voice was strangely lacking in either anger or resentment. It contained something else – not so much a personal emotion as an objective scene: an abandoned, overgrown garden, or a dry riverbed after a major flood – a scene like that.”
“His voice was hard and dry, reminding her of a desert plant that could survive a whole year on one day’s worth of rain.”

“‘Hello,’ Tengo said, his voice still slurry from sleep. It was like his head was filled with frozen lettuce. There must be some people who don’t know you’re not supposed to freeze lettuce. Once lettuce has been frozen, it loses all its crispness – which for lettuce is surely its best characteristic.”

Here’s the end of a phone call:
“Tengo stared at the dead receiver in his hand for a while, the way a farmer stares at a withered vegetable he has picked up from his drought-racked field.”

Some descriptions of nature include moonlight on clouds:
“The glow colored the edges of the passing clouds, like a long skirt whose hem had been accidentally dipped in dye.”

A storm:
“Big hard raindrops went on knocking against the glass like bullets slamming into a deer.”

The ocean:
“Beyond the garden and lawn was the dark line of the pine windbreak, through which came the sound of the waves. The rough waves of the Pacific. It was a thick, darkish sound, as if many souls were gathered, each whispering his story. They seemed to be seeking more souls to join them, seeking even more stories to be told.”

Finally, some of his best descriptions involve the moods and perceptions of his characters: 
“He felt he had become a two-day-old evening paper. New information was coming out day after day, but he was the only one who knew none of it.”

“Buzzcut looked deep into Komatsu’s eyes. He looked like he was measuring the depths of something inside, like eyeballing a room to see if a piece of furniture would fit.”

“But tonight, sleep was bearing down on him from above, like the stone lid of an ancient coffin.”

“His thoughts went around and around, like a poor mouse stuck in an exitless maze allowed only to smell the cheese.”

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