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The Mediocre Man – How Murakami Makes a Character?


Walking with a Murakami protagonist in a Murakami story is like filling a balloon with tap water. At one point, you think something is going to burst.

Every once in a while, I come back to reading a Murakami novel. I don’t know why. I have read a lot in my life. In this candid moment, I admit I haven’t enjoyed most books I’ve read.

Finishing books is often similar to putting a little extra effort at work. You don’t really love your work, you just need the dopamine hit, the feeling of some form of success. In fact, a simple idea like chucking away books halfway if I didn’t like it seemed absurd and wrong.

Murkami was different. He is different. He is the only author who can transport me to a different world. After finishing most of his collected works, I’ve come upon a theory as to why Murakami has my number. Through his uncanny world, Murakami speaks to something more real than renowned authors I find most similar to sleeping pills.

First, there is something you need to understand about writers and characters.  

Writers and Characters

Writers think about their characters all the time. It’s an unavoidable disease.

I won’t go into the process of developing characters for a story. Every writer has a different way of doing it.

This is what I think. Writers give birth to characters because they wish to say something they cannot.

Through characters, writers give readers a window about their own ideas. This works very well because in doing so, writers don’t have to take any responsibility for the validity of the idea itself.

The Joker

Let’s take a popular example. The character of Joker in The Dark Knight is unlike anything we see in daily life. Our world is driven by the simple idea that people behave based on their own interests. Milton Friedman said the same thing years back. People are driven by incentives.

The Joker is an anathema to this simple and ambiguous idea which governs our world. In the Joker, we see a part of the writer’s mind that yearns for chaos. Eventually, the idea of order wins and the Joker is defeated. However, through him, the writer shows us a window into the idea of chaos.

Through characters, we get a glimpse into a writer’s mind.

Akhila Iyer

One of the best use of this idea is found in Miss Laila: Armed and DangerousManu Joseph, the writer, creates Akhila Iyer, a prankster who exposes liberal intellectuals. If you follow Manu on Twitter or read his columns, you would know his distaste for the sanctimonious liberal elites. Through Iyer, Joseph manages to find a vessel to give readers a window into what he thinks about the world.

At the end of the day, writers write because they want to say something. Characters are the most effective medium to transport these ideas. Fiction writing guides tend to treat writing and characters like variables in an equation

As I mentioned before, nothing about writing is concrete or mathematical. At the end of the day, you can think of characters in a book as a way for writers to make a point.

This brings us to the main event. What is Murakami telling us with his characters?

Murakami Celebrates the Mediocre Man

In most Murakami novels, you will find a male protagonist who is skilled at his job.

Think of the nameless protagonist in The Wild Sheep Chase. He is shown in the story as a great copywriter. And that’s about it. His marriage has failed. His standard of living suggests his copywriting agency is moderately successful.

Perhaps the most striking aspect about this man is his lack of emotional range. I don’t remember a part of the novel where this man was angry at someone or giddy with joy. This man is the antithesis of our society where every event or issue must either be met with praise or anger.

This is why he’s the mediocre man. He’s the guy who is not looking for anything logical like money, love, or status. He doesn’t wish to make a political point. In fact, our protagonist is a person with no real intimate desire of any kind.

This is not where the mediocrity ends. In Murakami novels, you will notice one common aspect. Our protagonists never show any kind of long term thinking, strategic thought, or intellectual prowess. The way the protagonist behaves is very reactive.

Our world naturally finds this mediocre. We like proactive men who think ahead and act first. Murakami instead allows his protagonists to get washed up at different parts of a shore like a powerless crab.

No decision a protagonist makes in a Murakami novel represents genius level intellect. As a reader, you will find that the protagonist is acting eerily similar to how you would. And here lies the beauty of the entire Murakami enterprise. The simplicity in thought married to the complexity of different events in a story make for a melancholic experience.

Pared Back Prose

Then there is Murakami’s prose. Unlike Salman Rushdie, the other writer exploring magical realism, Murakami strips down his prose to its bare bones. Many tend to scoff at his prose sometimes, something I find strange.

This may be coming from a personal place, but it must be said. Great prose is like cutting vegetables in a fancy shape for a salad. The taste is still the same. Cutting it differently is just making it appear like something else.

The way Murakami writes his characters blends perfectly with his prose. The prose, like his characters, is simple to digest and understand. And yet, even in its simplicity, you will sometimes find very deep meaning. Here’s an example –

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What is Murakami Trying to Say?

Only Murakami can confirm this. However, there are hints you can take.

The mediocre man is not really mediocre. He just lacks the intensity of the world around him. He is similar to The Joker from the Batman series. Although not as mercurial, the mediocre man, like the Joker, is someone we cannot explain.

Toru Okada is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle doesn’t want to go back to work after leaving his job. Our society would call him a lazy man who is mooching off his wife. Instead, the real world rewards the Noboru Watayas of the world, the people with a single minded obsession to get ahead and an indifference to anything which doesn’t concern their ambitions.

Murakami is trying to tell a world looking for reason this – it’s OK. Relax. Let things come to you.

Sometimes, I like someone telling me this. Looking at Murakami’s vast readership, a lot of people want this message as well.

Also read: What is Speculative Fiction?
Also read: Indian Fantasy Novels: The Best Fantasy Fiction From India
Also read: Ten Speculative Books You Should’ve Already Read

PS – We have our own Whatsapp group for writers. In the group, we share our experiences writing stories and generally anything related to the trade. You’re welcome to join. Just click here. Most of the time, we have a lot of fun in the group (sometimes we disagree strongly about books and stuff, all in good fun). If you’re uncomfortable with joining a group, no worries. Continue coming to Binge Mad for some more fun content.

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