WEEK 6: Haruki Murakami vs Joanne Harris

Since this weeks post is coming so late (my apologies) I will be reviewing the two books I read within the past week and a half.

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Both were reads that pushed me out of my cultural comfort zone (always a good thing). The first, given to me by a  friend for Christmas, was Haruki Murakami’s After Dark. The second was Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, which was made into a film in 2000. The first was very Japanese, the second was very French.

Murakami’s book was something I probably would not have picked up on my own. I liked that it was supposed to take place all in one night, and I found myself particularly drawn to the main character, Mari Asai who was mysterious and quiet, yet seemed to exude a kind of silent strength and independence. The book oozed with a sense of isolation that I found hard to get past at times, and it was emphasized through Murakami’s use of the collective gaze in his narration (he uses a lot of “we” as a “consciousness”). His theme seemed to allude to the idea that we are all together in our loneliness which I believe is kind of overdone, but very hip right now. At times the novel felt like nothing more to me than a string of philosophical conversations, but if you like reading books with scenes that play out like a movie you might enjoy it.

Reader reviews on Goodreads sound about accurate on this book, half declaring it is “basic” literature, an easy read, not very compelling; and the other half recognizing it as “high literature,” and “haunting.” It seems like there really is no in between with Murakami – you either hate him or you love him.

Chocolat was more aligned with the traditional literary form. It too dealt in the realm of magical realism imgreswith the main character of Vianne Rocher a mother, chocolate aficionado, and “magician.” She is something like a curandera with the ability to tune into to peoples greatest desires, and after moving to a rural French town whose community leader is an uptight priest with a Jesus-complex, she begins to shake things up a bit.

The story is sweet, falling somewhere between a child’s bedtime story and a biblical myth. I was delighted by Harris’ ability to capture sensory detail, I found her characters to be surprisingly in tune with their corporeality for a white writer. Her theme of happiness being what everyone should ultimately strive for struck me as a little bit too simplistic, but it was, (how do you say it?), well intended. Life just jumped out of every page as Harris develops the community and brings us in close to share in their joy. The book felt like a warm, friendly hug, or the sweet taste of hot chocolate. Now I need to figure out how to get my hands on the movie.

Overall score:

Murakami – 3. Adventurous, but not my cup of tea.

Harris – 5. Heartwarming, but not exceptional.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being “don’t waste your time reading this” and 10 being “you must read this at some point in your life.”)

Helpful Articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/books/review/Kirn-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://joanne-harris.co.uk/v3site/books/chocolat/

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