Haruki Murakami is something of a household name to many readers, with his surreal, bizarre, but deceptively simple fiction capturing interest and forging the way for much Japanese translated fiction.

Every reader will tell you something different, and it depends what you’re looking for in your next read, but here’s our suggestions of where to start if you want to board the Murakami train.

A Wild Sheep Chase (1982/1989)

A Wild Sheep Chase is technically the concluding novel of Murakami’s first trilogy, but is a great starting point for reading his work. It stands alone perfectly well, and introduces what has come to be understood as his unique style of writing.

The man was leading an aimless life, time passing, one big blank. His girlfriend has perfectly formed ears, ears with the power to bewitch, marvels of creation.

The man receives a letter from a friend, enclosing a seemingly innocent photograph of sheep, and a request: place the photograph somewhere it will be seen. Then, one September afternoon, the phone rings, and the adventure begins. Welcome to the wild sheep chase.

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (1995/1997)

An early example of Murakami’s powerful storytelling, with some of the main pillars of a Murakami novel: cats, music, mysterious women…

Toru Okada’s cat has disappeared. His wife is growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he has recently been receiving.

As this compelling story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada’s vague and blameless life, spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table, are turned inside out, and he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided (however obscurely) by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.

Norwegian Wood (1987/1989/2000)

If you’re looking for something a little less surreal to get you started, Norwegian Wood is a great choice. It’s a subtle, melancholic, simple tale of young love, set against the student revolts in 1960s Tokyo.

When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.

Kafka on the Shore (2002/2005)

Another example of Murakami at his best, fusing all his best qualities and interests into a spellbinding, magical novel.

Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. As their parallel odysseys unravel, cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghost-like pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since World War II.

There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle – one of many which combine to create an elegant and dreamlike masterpiece.

Have we missed your favourite? What would you recommend from Murakami’s backlist?

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