On running and writing

2008-11-19 00:00

HARUKI Murakami is known as a funky, somewhat flakey Japanese novelist whose style is impossible to pigeonhole. He’s a perennial Nobel outsider, a translater of Raymond Carver, from whose book of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Love he has borrowed his title, and, one would think, the most unlikely running fanatic in the world.

This is not a treatise on staying healthy, as he’s quick to point out. It is, however, very much about running, its role as a mainstay of his life, and, inevitably, its meditative addictiveness. Murakami gives detailed accounts of races he’s run around the world from sweltering Athens to chilly Boston, how he tries to maintain his time in the face of advancing age and how absolutely horrible running sometimes can be.

Woven through the calendar of running, is an account of his life. At the age of 30 he was running a successful jazz club (he’s also a fanatical collector of classic records) when he decided to sell up and become a novelist. “I’ll give it everything I’ve got for two years,’’ he told his wife, “and then if it doesn’t work, we’ll buy another club.’’ It worked, and he’s been writing ever since, making his mark with works such as Kafka On The Shore and Sputnik Sweetheart.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is also in part a meditation on the writing process, personal meaning and mortality. Weighty topics but dealt with matter-of-factly in an easy, conversational style.

Yves Vanderhaeghen

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