The Murakami Project: Each week leading up to October 25th, the on-sale date of Haruki Murakami’s long-awaited 1Q84 in its English translation, a different BookPerson will review one of Murakami’s previous titles. Folks who haven’t read Murakami yet can familiarize themselves with what the book world will be buzzing about come October (and maybe discover a new favorite book), and established fans can remember why they fell in love with him in the first place.
Let us begin!
Book: A Wild Sheep Chase
Reviewer: Brian C.
Some writers write stories as if they’re pulled from the heavens. They bring us novels that seem to simply exist in a natural, transcendent way, and we feel happy that the book, which must have lived just under the surface of our daily lives, has been unearthed by a special novelist who understands how universal our stories really are. Some stories are born, and they feel like old friends. Haruki Murakami isn’t one of these novelists, and his novels aren’t these types of novels. Murakami’s stories come into the world kicking and screaming. Breech babies. They are at times uncomfortable, often apathetic, and usually strange, but they’re never off putting.
A Wild Sheep Chase was Murakami’s first international hit. It’s the third part in the ‘The Trilogy of the Rat’ which centers on an unnamed narrator and a man named Rat. Dance, Dance, Dance is connected to these books, but not considered part of the Trilogy. Because the plot lines are simple and the magic tricks which mark all of Murakami’s fiction are blatant, this is the perfect place to start reading Japan’s most well known author. This is not his masterpiece, I’d argue that that distinction goes to Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or, as we’re being told, 1Q84, but it’s useful. Useful to me because, although I had read a lot of Murakami, until recently I hadn’t answered the question, how am I supposed to read this?
It’s important to say that Murakami’s books are weird. They get called a lot of things: Postmodern, Magic Realism, Allegorical Fairy Tales…etc. These descriptors feel good, and they certainly work to explain what the novels are, but I think they are a little too superficial to answer what the novels do. To borrow a turn of phrase from the great teacher John Ciardi, reading Murakami isn’t so much about what the book means, but how does it mean? How does simple, matter-of-fact narration of bizarre, unnatural events work its way into something substantial, and what’s the best rubric to take it all in?
A Wild Sheep Chase helped me answer a lot of these questions. What I’ve come up with is this: read the book Murakami has written, don’t be creative, and don’t add anything. When the narrator talks about sheep ‘inhabiting’ a man, the characters in the book accept it as something that happens, and you should too. It’s not about Modern Japan, or the downfall of the working class, or the inner turmoil of Post-War Japan, it’s about a sheep ‘inhabiting’ a man. This acceptance is key with Murakami, because if you begin to accept what is not acceptable, then you can begin to be comfortable with the discomfort of his narratives. If you can be comfortable with the discomfort, then you can begin to understand what it must feel like to be a member of Japan’s post-war, modern working class.
If you read only one book by Haruki Murakami, read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. But if you want to read a lot of books by Murakami, and I think you do, you couldn’t find a better starting place than A Wild sheep Chase.