What’s so special ’bout cats, love, and Murakami?

Kitty

“For me, writing a novel is like having a dream. Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake. I can continue yesterday’s dream today, something you can’t normally do in everyday life.” — Haruki Murakami

“There is another world, but it is in this one.” — Paul Eluard

 

On April 12, 2013, a new novel by Haruki Murakami was released in Japan. Fans lined up at bookstores, and Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage topped the bestseller list on the Japanese Amazon site almost immediately. Why the excitement, when, according to one Twitter user as reported in the Guardian, no one needs to read it to know “it’s about a man who is smart but lonely, has no friends, but somehow attracts women and makes spaghetti”?

In Murakami’s novels teenagers are preternaturally wise, plot threads are picked up and abandoned, the sex scenes seem to be written by aliens, and characters spend weeks alone in their apartments cooking meals, reading, working out, and ironing their clothes. These are the kinds of things that drive his detractors bats. And I get that. But I can’t stop reading Murakami. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

1Q84   1Q84

An assassin steps off the freeway into a parallel world, where the moon is a funny shape. In order to find peace, she must meet her destiny and bridge the gap between worlds.

 

 

 

Sputnik Sweetheart Sputnik Sweetheart

A man falls in love with a woman who falls in love with another woman. The two women go to Greece, where the younger woman disappears — possibly to a parallel world. The older woman tells the man a story about being trapped in the gondola of a ferris wheel and watching her alter ego have sex with a stranger in her apartment.

 

 

Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood

A love affair between a student and the emotionally troubled girlfriend of his late best friend is complicated by his attraction to a free-spirited classmate. One of his friends reads The Great Gatsby and sleeps with a lot of girls.

 

 

 

Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

A man searches for his lost cat and missing wife, meets a variety of enigmatic helpers, descends into a well, and discovers a portal to a parallel world. A teenage girl with a lot of interesting questions works in a wig factory. Terrible things happened in Manchuria during the Second World War.

 

 

Kafka on the ShoreKafka on the Shore

A fifteen-year-old boy runs away from home because of an Oedipal curse. A sixty-year-old cat-finder teams up with a twentysomething truck driver to open a portal to a parallel world. They’re helped by Colonel Sanders, a pimp who arranges for the truck driver to have the best sex of his life.

 

 

Lots of surprising things happen in the Murakamiverse, a dreamlike and strange dark wood where a confused protagonist is suddenly dropped, in limbo between the past self and a new identity. But there are a few elements that crop up over and over. Among them:

  • Cats — talking cats, lost cats, cats who take over the town at night
  • Descriptions of girls’ ears
  • Rain, weird things falling from the sky, thunderstorms that presage a breakdown between worlds
  • Wells
  • Detailed descriptions of people’s clothes
  • Smart teenage girls who like to have existential conversations with men while sunbathing or watching fires
  • People spending time in apartments alone for long periods of time, doing very ordinary things like cooking meals, exercising, and drinking coffee
  • Discussions about classical music, jazz, or the Beatles
  • Dialogue that is by turns funny, puzzling, naturalistic, and philosophical
  • Bizarre, godlike creatures who perform strange, disturbing, violent acts
  • Intense, transformative, and dreamlike sexual experiences, or sexually charged dreams
  • Liminal places: train stations, bridges, rivers, roads, beaches, islands, forests, hotels, and dormitories
  • obnoxious security guards, soldiers, police officers, detectives, schoolteachers and other authority figures

It’s these common elements that give Murakami’s books their texture and mood. The writing style itself is rather plain, in keeping with the narrator’s impassive reaction to events. But the Murakami protagonist is only seemingly unemotional. The “parallel world” that Kafka Tamura, Aomame, Tengo Kawana, and Toru Okada enter is the inner life turned inside out. The dissolving border between the “real world” and the strange, dream world of passion and fear is the non-place that each must go through to find love and identity.

That existential journey is one that people on the verge of adulthood, or those who have experienced change, can identify with very well.

And that’s why I can’t stop reading Murakami.

Murakami cat

D’s Holiday Entertaining for the Lazy

Fireplace

 

“Sometimes there is so much to do that I get sort of a headache around the sides and partially under it” – Eloise

 

Christmas is less than a week away, and you’re probably rushing around with all those last minute Christmas errands, muttering Dickensian oaths under your breath as some twenty year old in a Mercedes sweeps into the last parking spot in the mall and masking your barely suppressed rage at endless cash lineups soundtracked with Michael Buble by taking a discreet nip from your flask.  I’m making croissants today, which is rather like war – “long periods of boredom punctuated by short periods of excitement”.  It takes all day to make croissants – two days if you’re pedantic about it, which I absolutely am not.  There’s enough wait time between “folds” that you can read a book.  Possibly an entire novel.  Maybe even write a novel, or at least a short story or a really good poem.  I’m reading an ARC of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson right now, which bumped The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (sorry, Haruki) when it arrived in my mailbox, crammed into the tiny space so tightly, along with a cable bill and two crushed Christmas cards, that it had to be extracted with obstetrical proficiency.

Of course if you are a partially employed reader/writer/book reviewer/blogger and food and publishing enthusiast, you have more time than most, and might feel the need to light some lights and invite close friends over for food, music and drinks. What’s a bit of effort once a year?    For you fully employed, participatory members of society, though, I have just the entertaining solution for you –  the  Timbit Holiday Tree!

What the Timbit Holiday Tree lacks in elegance it makes up in whimsical charm – more Manic Pixie Dream Girl than Martha Stewart.  Although even Martha  is sometimes a genius of simplicity.  Take for example, these plastic dollar store deer covered with glitter.  I was so entranced  I decided to riff on it with my own glitter critters.

Christmas Dinos

I feel certain that dinosaurs would have worshiped Our Lord if they had known about Him, putting aside any bitterness about asteroids or glaciers.

Anyway, the Timbit Tree is easy and impressively Canadian, and would be perfect for a brunch or  toboggan party or some such winter celebration.  My inspiration was Charles Phoenix’s Astro-Weenie Tree, which I and my lovely assistant also approximated for our recent party at the “Galhalla”.

D's Astro Tree

Really, I suppose you could serve anything in tree form – meatballs, marshmallows, mushrooms, what have you. But I opted for Timbits, and you can too, with minimal time and virtually no skill. Here’s how!

 

The Timbit Holiday Tree

Prep time: About 15 minutes, plus 20-30 minutes driving time.

You will need:

You will need

  • A styrofoam cone, 38 cm tall
  • Foil wrap
  • Honey, or peanut butter
  • Toothpicks
  • A decorative plate
  • 40  assorted Timbits
  • 20 assorted Timbits
  • 10 assorted Timbits
  • And 5 more Timbits

 

Wrap your styrofoam cone completely in foil.  If you have loose ends that won’t stay in place you can secure them with a dab of honey or a straight pin.  I used honey, because well, I’m lazy.

Step 1

Put some honey or peanut butter on the bottom of the cone and “glue”  the cone to the centre of a pretty plate.

Now you’re ready to make your Timbit tree!  Start securing your Timbits to the cone with toothpicks.  Work around from the bottom.  You can be choosy about the the colours and sizes, but personally I like the randomness of the different shades of honey, chocolate and snowy powdered sugar.  Mmm, powdered sugar.  Make sure it’s filled in nicely, but don’t worry too much about the spaces – the sparkly foil is festive!

Step 2

About halfway up, realize that you will need more Timbits.  Search out the closest Tim’s  and get in your car.  At the drivethrough, realize that you didn’t properly identify where you should order, because they changed it from last time, and put your car in reverse when you hear a tiny, faraway, “Can I help you?” from behind.  Wave your arms and utter a few oaths as the woman behind you honks her horn and refuses to back up.

When you get to the drivethrough window, explain to the very nice attendant that you got confused and ask for some assorted Timbits, one box of twenty and one of ten, assuring yourself that this will be plenty – the cone gets smaller towards the top, and you are halfway up, so how could you need the same number that you have already used?  It doesn’t make sense.

Gratefully thrust your change into the attendant’s hand and tell her she’s “super” and drive home.

Frantically start placing the rest of your Timbits on the tree, panicking because you only have three hours left and you still have to vacuum, make appetizers and shower.  Get within inches of the top and realize you need more Timbits!  Sonofa…next time your friends can invite you to a party.

Wrap your Timbit tree in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge (you may have to take out a shelf) until your Timbit saviour arrives with another box of ten. Christmas is a time of miracles.

Complete your tree with the remaining Timbits. Note to self: it takes 75 Timbits to make a tree.  Cut a slice of starfruit and secure it to the top with a toothpick.

Timbit Holiday Tree!

You are amazing and your tree looks festive and beautiful and Canadian.  Invite people over to admire and enjoy it.  Have a cocktail or two, you’re not driving.  Gosh, your friends are so great.  Really, what more is there?  Merry Christmas!