Wednesday 25 June 2008

The Haruki Murakami Syndrome

I recently lost a read-off with my husband and my "punishment" for being too slow on the read was to buy him a book of his choosing at the Bookmark in Charlottetown.

I didn't think the winner, whomever it turned out to be, would actually find anything at the Bookmark though - for, unlike its Book City-esque counterpart in Halifax, the Bookmark in Charlottetown is disturbingly reminiscent of a craptacular old Coles store.

However, hubby surprised me not only by finding something he wanted at the C'town Bookmark but also by choosing a book I've been coveting (but resisting) ever since it first came out in soft cover: Nicola Barker's Darkmans.

I'd been resisting picking up Darkmans entirely because of length considerations - it's over 800 pages long and I just couldn't foresee having the time for it. But there we were, enjoying our sweet east coast vay-cay, and Brook had just forced me to buy it...

Up until last night, when I started to become uneasy about how Darkmans was going to end, I was absolutely loving this novel. The writing is stupendously good; I haven't been blown away by such show-stoppingly amazing writing in a long time (since I last read David Mitchell, I think) and so I was feeling just stupidly happy to be reading this book.

The plot I thought was really good too - original and revelatory enough to be compelling on the one hand and tantalizingly mysterious on the other. Darkmans is a kind of ghost story/history lesson/character study and Barker provided enough connections to keep me engaged but also curious enough about how precisely those connections worked to keep me on delicious tenterhooks.

But then last night, as I realized things were wrapping up, I felt my hold on those connections becoming increasingly tenuous. And tonight, when I did actually finish it, I was left scratching my head and more than once saying (yes, aloud) "What the f*** just happened? What the...? Hey, wait - what?" (Good thing there was only one distrustful but very discreet bunny around to see me talking to myself this way.)

I honestly have no idea what happened at the end of this book. I feel like Barker's editor should have given her a stern talking to or something. Or gotten her drunk and made her sign a contract indicating she'd revise the conclusion to ensure it actually makes sense. But of course, the editor did not do either of these things.

Barker is, I think, displaying all the symptoms of what I'm going to call the Haruki Murakami Syndrome - like Murakami, Barker has mad writing skills and mind-blowing plot ideas that no one can match. Like Murakami, Barker thinks large - there's a hell of a lot going on in this book. Like Murakami, people (editors, award-givers, professional reviewers) think that there is some kind of awesome amazingness hidden in the confusion and that even if they can't figure it out (or maybe because they can't figure it out), other people will - or will take their word for it that the book is brilliant from beginning to end. Like Murakami, Barker, I suspect, is successful enough now that she can get away with anything and rather than mess with his or her meal ticket, her editor just lets her get away with endings that must be defined as pure unadulterated mush (just like the conclusion of Murakami's Kafka on the Shore).

In spite of my disappointment with the conclusion to Darkmans, I'm definitely going to read more of Barker's stuff - writing this good demands more chances.

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