Villa Tre Colli and Norwegian Wood

Murakami Fest Year 14 continues. Here are the previous posts in this annual celebration:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat, Writing is Hard
Year 14: Prostitutes and Novelists

The next chapter is ヴィラ・トレコリ (Villa Tre Colli), a very short chapter. Just four pages, probably a third of the length of most other chapters in the book. And for good reason – Murakami is dialed in as he finished the first draft of Norwegian Wood. He doesn’t have the time or energy to write anything else, as we’ll see.

He’s staying in Villa Tre Colli, an aged hotel on the edge of the city. It looks out over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building and the Stadio Olimpico, and he can hear the crowds at soccer matches cheering.

Trip Advisor calls Villa Tre Colli the 3,165th of 4,403 hotels in Rome, which basically aligns with Murakami’s review. This YouTube video makes it seem like it’s been turned into a wedding venue.

I felt like this couldn’t be the same place, but the location tracks (it even has a Facebook Page). You can see the Stadio Olimpico and Foreign Ministry on the map, and the Google streetview cuts off at the entrance to the gate, suggesting that once you go through the gate you have to climb a hill. Pretty cool.

At any rate, here’s what Murakami has to say about finishing the first draft:

小説の第一稿は三月七日に完成した。三月七日は冷え込んだ土曜日だった。ローマ人は三月のことを気違いの月と言う。天候の変化や気温の変化がでたらめで急激なのである。前日はぽかぽかと春のようだったのに、一晩でまた真冬に逆戻りというところだ。この日は朝の五時半に起きて、庭を軽く走り、それから休みなしに十七時間書き続けた。真夜中前に小説は完成した。日記を見るとさすがに疲れていたようで、ひとこと「すごく良い」と書いてあるだけだ。

講談社の出版部の木下陽子さんに電話をかけて、小説がいちおう完成したことを連絡すると、四月の初めにボローニャで絵本の見本市があって、講談社の国際室の人が行くので、そこで原稿を直接手渡してもらえるとありがたいのだがということであった。なかなか面白い小説になったと思うよ、と僕が言うと、「えー、九百枚もあるの?本当に面白いんですか?」と疑わしそうに言う。けっこう猜疑心の強い人なのである。 (209)

I finished the first draft of the novel on March 7. March 7 was a frigid Saturday. Romans call March a crazy month. The changes in weather and temperature are random and sudden. The day before can be a pleasantly warm spring day, yet overnight it will be back to mid-winter. That day I woke up at 5:30, did a quick run in the garden, and then wrote for 17 hours without a break. I finished the novel just before midnight. Judging from my diary, I was predictably exhausted; I wrote just a single sentence: “It went really well.”

I called Kinoshita Yoko with Kodansha’s publishing division to tell her I’d basically finished the novel, and she said there was a trade fair for picture books in Bologna at the beginning of April that someone from Kodansha’s international team would be attending and asked whether I might be able to hand over the manuscript directly to them at the fair. I think the book’s pretty good, I said, and she said “Oh yeaaah? It’s 900 pages? Are you sure it’s that good?” with some doubt in her voice. She’s a bit of a skeptic.

This is pretty awesome detail that Murakami includes. I’m sure Jay Rubin must have written about this in his book, but it’s very cool to read about it in Murakami’s own words.

And just imagine being that Kodansha staff, taking the manuscript in Bologna and then having to transport it back to Tokyo. I imagine that Murakami had his rough draft material, but I wonder whether they would have been able to make a full copy or if the one on the plane back to Japan was the only one in existence.

Speaking of drafting material, Murakami goes on to explain his editing process, which is fascinating:

すぐに翌日から第二稿にとりかかる。ノートやらレターペーパーに書いた原稿を、あたまから全部あらためて書きなおしていくのだ。四百字詰めにして九百枚ぶんの原稿をボールペンですっかり書きなおすというのは、自慢するわけではないけれど、体力がないととてもできない作業である。第二稿が完成したのが三月二十六日だった。ボローニャのブックフェアまでに仕上げなくてはと思ってものすごく急いでやったので、最後の頃には右腕が疲れてほとんど動かなくなってしまった。僕はありがたいことに肩がこらない体質だから、肩の方は大丈夫なのだけれど、腕がやられた。だから暇があると床でせっせと腕立て伏せをやっていた。長編小説を書くというのは、世間一般の人が思っているよりはずっと激しい肉体労働なのである。今ではワードプロセッサー導入のおかげでずいぶん楽になったけれど。 (209-210)

The next day I started on the second draft right away. I took the draft that I’d written in notebooks and on letter paper and rewrote it completely from the beginning. I don’t mean to brag, but completely rewriting a draft of 900 400-character pages with a ballpoint pen isn’t the type of work you can do without endurance. I finished the second draft on March 26. I was really hurrying because I had to finish before the book fair in Bologna, so by the end my right arm was so tired I could barely move it. Thankfully, I don’t usually get tight shoulders, so my shoulders were fine, but my arm was shot. So when I had any down time, I was careful to do push-ups on the floor. Writing a full-length novel is far more labor-intensive than most people might think. Thanks to the introduction of the word processor, it’s gotten a lot easier these days…

I’m not sure what the goal of doing push-ups is. Maybe to keep his arm active, to keep his left arm working as well?

This is really the first close look I’ve gotten at Murakami’s revision process. After the second draft, he goes through it again with a red pen, although he doesn’t mention if it gets another rewrite after that. I would imagine not.

He settles on the title “Norwegian Wood” two days before leaving for Bologna. This is also a bit surprising, as in recent years I believe Murakami has mentioned that the title of his novels is often a starting point. But we know he was working from the short story “Firefly” in this case.

So what do we know? We know that the Murakamis left for Europe on October 4, 1986 and that he complete the first draft of Norwegian Wood on March 7, 1987. At the beginning of this chapter, Murakami mentions that they’ve been in Europe for four months, so he may have been writing at Villa Tre Colli for that fifth month. No matter how you calculate it, it’s an impressive task. Murakami takes a solid short story and turns it into a generational novel in 150 days. While living abroad. In temporary housing across the Mediterranean, with storms flooding the apartments and drafty walls letting in the cold. Say what you will about his decline in recent years, Norwegian Wood has a pretty cool creation story, and it’s a shame that more of the world hasn’t read about it in Murakami’s own words.

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