Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite authors, so much so that I decided to read every novel he has written. Now that I’ve done so, I’ve decided to write a list ranking all of his novels from worst to best. Of course, this is my opinion, I don’t mean this to be a serious judgment of the novels of Murakami and more as recommendation and a guide for those thinking of diving into his world. Of course, Murakami has also written short stories and non-fiction books, but I have not considered them here. Personally I don’t think he has ever written a really bad novel, but I think some of his novels leave things to be desired, and some are great but not brilliant, but I consider numbers 6 to 1 to be absolute masterpieces.
Part 1) Imperfect Novels
14) Pinball, 1973 (1980)
Pinball, 1973 is Murakami’s second novel, and the second in “The Rat” tetralogy. It doesn’t have much plot, it’s just deals with the narrator’s obsession with pinballs, and his strange love affair with a pair of mysterious twins who materialize in his life out of thin air while he reminisces about his past. In a parallel narration, we follow the inner monologues of the Rat as he disappears from the town.
This novel is very familiar for Murakami readers, it has all the recurring elements, from wells to cats to mysterious girlfriends and such, but what it’s missing is the emotional depth and it reads more like a weird experimental story that is bizarre for the sake of being bizarre, and reads like a very talented beginner copying Murakami’s style superficially. Therefore I think it’s Murakami’s worst novel and only his most die-hard fans should read this one.
13) South of the Border, West of the Sun (1992)
The story is about Hajime, an only child who lives in a small town, and he is very obsessed with the fact that he is an only child. His only friend, with whom he is passionately in love, is Shimamoto, another only child. Hajime and Shimamoto lose touch, and at the age of 30 he marries another woman. But Shimamoto suddenly appears back in his life and makes everything complicated.
This novel is certainly fun to read, and it’s certainly a Murakami novel, but it’s also crude in a way that you don’t expect from Murakami, with weird character traits that, unusually for Murakami, are not very convincing, with stereotypical and underdeveloped female characters, (Why is Hajime so singularly obsessed with being an only child? Why is Yukiko [his wife] so docile? What was the deal with Shimamoto?) That said, there are moments of brilliance in the novel that redeem it, although not enough to earn it a place higher than 13.
12) 1Q84 (2010)
This story revolves around two characters who fell in love as small children and have not forgotten each other since. Now, years later, Tengo, the man, is hired for a ghostwriting job which takes him on a noire mysterious adventure and Aomame, is a hired assassin who experiences a series of strange events which make her realize that she has entered a parallel universe. These two follow their separate adventures until their plots converge.
This novel does have its strong points: magical atmosphere, intriguing mystery, interesting characters, a love at the center of the novel which no other author but Murakami could pull off, yet I still think it’s one of his weaker novels because it seems to come to a complete halt in narrating the events in the last parts, going on without any significant event happening, or any important revelation about the characters, or any interesting thought process. It also engages in a lot of repetition. Therefore I think from one point onward the novel loses its narrative breath, and maybe Murakami shouldn’t have committed himself to a structure which forced him to return to a character every chapter, and he definitely shouldn’t have introduced the third POV character (who returns from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, so maybe he relied on fanservice value?). When I was about 3/5th into the novel I was ready to proclaim the novel a masterpiece, but the quality considerably went downhill from that point.