Book reviews: fiction from Haruki Murakami, Neil Jordan and Ian McGuire
Nostalgia from Murakami, a thriller from Jordan and McGuire’s excellent whaling drama are this week’s selection
by Haruki Murakami (read by Kirby Heyborne)
Whole Story Audiobooks (audiobook)
Some numbers and facts. Pinball, 1973 was written in 1980. Haruki Murakami’s second novel, it is also part two of a trilogy that began with his debut Hear the Wind Sing and concluded two years later with A Wild Sheep Chase. Reading part one is advisable but not vital before downloading this new audiobook of what amounts to a novella: the listening time is just over four hours. All three novels are set in the sort of bar Murakami famously helped run. Here that honour goes to J, who spends much of his time chatting to his friend Rat and our unnamed narrator. The trio ponders life, love, and in part two, pinball. Indeed, what action exists is driven by the quest for the perfect pinball machine. Nostalgia for this now historical piece of entertainment links arms with translation and a love story involving a pair of twins who, in a move worthy of David Lynch, appear from out of nowhere at his apartment. Kirby Heyborne reads Murakami’s lugubrious narration of quietly extraordinary events with just the right deadpan tone. Personally, Murakami is not my cup of tea, but if you are a fan, then you’ll find Pinball, 1973 simply wizard.
by Neil Jordan (read by Mark Meadows)
Audible Studios for Bloomsbury (audiobook)
Neil Jordan may still be best known as a film director, with credits ranging from A Company of Wolves to The Crying Game, but as his screenplay credits attest he is a more than capable writer. Indeed, The Drowned Detective is his sixth novel, although this story has so many twists and shifts of direction that it could include his seventh, eighth and ninth books. As the title suggests, there is a thriller element, which takes the form of two private eyes investigating two different cases. In one, the wife of a politician in an unnamed country in Eastern Europe hires Jonathan and Frank to follow her seemingly adulterous husband. In the other, older mystery, a young girl, Petra, vanished seemingly without trace over a decade before. These openings blossom into strange flowers. A girl throws herself in the city’s river and is rescued by Jonathan, who is battling his own jealousy about an adulterous partner. The short, slippery chapters work like an echo chamber. Petra resounds to Jonathan’s visionary daughter. The hints of ghost story ring through the clairvoyant Gertrude. Mark Meadows’ terse, unemotional narrative voice is coloured by his gift for accents – the old world tones of Petra’s parents, the gloriously off-kilter Gertrude who steals this weird and wonderful show.
by Ian McGuire
Every so often a novel crosses your path that unites plot excitement, vibrant prose, memorable characters and thought-provoking ideas. Ian McGuire’s The North Water is just that sort of book. Set in the middle of the 19th century – 1859 to be exact – it comes across like Moby-Dick remixed by The Usual Suspects. A band of variously tough, violent and damaged men converge on a whaling boat called the Volunteer. A violent, cold-blooded harpoonist called Henry Drax. Cavendish, a conniving schemer. Captain Brownlee, with a track record for wrecking ships. Finally, an Irish laudanum addict called Sumner, wounded in the siege of Delhi and the Volunteer’s surgeon. What could possibly go wrong? Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to hunt whales for oil and blubber, but darker motivations gradually surface, largely after a murder in the middle of the sea. Enmities that have been simmering now boil over as the ship sinks and the crew confront both each other and nature at its cruellest across arctic wastes. Grand themes such as class, god, business, politics and justice are propelled along by bad men doing unspeakable things with drugs, harpoons and (in one memorable clash) a sextant. The North Water is entertaining and unsettling, violent and oddly beautiful.