This question occurred to me as I read Haruki Murakami’s new novel, Colorless Tsukuri Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage (why can’t I come up with catchy titles like that?). Murakami is clearly a world-class writer. This novel was a #1 bestseller, it was reviewed on the cover of the Times Book Review, it got a top-of-the-line design from Knopf. Murakami has won prestigious awards, people talk about him as Nobel Prize-worthy. But…
The novel seem to me to contain some elementary fiction-writing mistakes, the kind that any editor or writing teacher would point out. For example: the novel begins with Tsukuri in college, wanting to die because he has been dumped, without a word of explanation, by his five best friends from high school. The novel becomes the story of why he was dumped and how he comes to terms with it. Fair enough. The problem is, the author never brings us far enough into that high-school world for us to really experience it. We just get summarized memories.
The result is that, when we finally find out why Tsukuri was dumped, the revelation lacks emotional resonance. It’s all about one of the girls in his group, but we have never really seen that girl, we have never experienced her. So, for me anyway, the revelation didn’t matter much.
An editor would say: Show don’t tell, Haruki-san. Consider some flashbacks. Bring us more deeply into the world of the high-school kids. Give the reader more of a stake in what the protagonist is going through. (And while you’re at it, why don’t you explain what happened to that college friend who simply disappeared? Don’t you think readers will care about that?)
But I have no idea if Murakami has such an editor. Murakami has such a distinctive voice that perhaps an editor would be reluctant to point out what are obvious flaws by conventional writing standards. What if Murakami had some deep reason for doing things the way he did them? Are writers like Murakami beyond editing? Maybe the publisher is so happy when he turns in a new manuscript that it goes straight into production.
This kind of editorial advice and support is supposed to be one of the strengths of traditional publishing. As I’ve explained elsewhere on this blog, I never received much of it. I wonder if people like Murakami are different.