The Murakami Project: Brian Reviews ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’

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!

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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.

13 thoughts on “The Murakami Project: Brian Reviews ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’

  1. I would actually suggest “Norwegian Wood” as a good starting place for Haruki Murakami. It has the fewest surreal elements, and is perhaps the most accessible. I will admit that I have not read “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” nor “A Wild Sheep Chase”, but I am comparing “Norwegian Wood” to “Dance, Dance, Dance” and some of his short story collections (“The Elephant Vanishes” as well as “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”) that I have read previously.

    Great bookstore by the way. I picked up “Sputnik Sweetheart” when I was there a few days back.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I don’t think we have anyone slated to review ‘Norwegian Wood’ as part of the project, so I’m glad you mentioned it. He’s such a prolific writer, it’s hard to cover everything.

      And I’m glad you enjoy the store. Thanks for visiting us on the blog, too. We have lots more Murakami coming at you in the next month, so check back with us.

  2. Agree that Norwegian Wood is the best to start with. Wild Sheep Chase has the feel of a writer still finding his way, so it should definitely be read after you already have a good feel for what Murakami is all about – i.e., save it until after you’ve read NW, Kafka on the Shore, Wind Up Bird and Hard Boiled Wonderland.

  3. Thanks for the review.
    Personally, in terms of a starting place for Murakami, I think it’s tough. Like Jack, I’d personally go with “Norwegian Wood,” because it’s where I started, and because it hit a place in my heart, became a mate to my soul, like almost nothing I’ve ever read. That said, I also know that it’s not everyone’s bag. More to the point, NW is atypical for Murakami-san.

    For pure fun, early Murakami, I’d recommend “Dance, Dance, Dance” over “Wild Sheep Chase.” It is, in my opinion, one of the funnest literary rides I know.

    I’d agree that his (first) masterpiece is “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” (and consider “Kafka on the Shore” the next) and recommend that as a start to people who require more meat in their books.

    The often forgotten Murakami, that I always loved, though, is “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.” I recommend that to people who want, what I’d describe as a fantasy novel for grown-ups (this novel has taken me as deeply into my own imagination as any (Narnia) book I ever read as a kid could).

    If you bookpeople, are looking for guest bloggers, I’ve been writing extensively about Murakami for a few years now. If you need a piece on Norwegian Wood, Dance Dance Dance or Blind Willow Sleeping Willow I would love to contribute.

  4. Even i had recently discovered Murakami a few months ago, i becamed really a fan. I’ve started with “wind up bird ..” (in spanish), and I agree with its postmodern air. But after that It was surprising the reading of “Tokio Blues..” so romantic and deep novel. The versatility of Murakami is amazing!!!! A new reader will never get bored. My favorite novel: “fin del mundo y un país de maravillas” (excuse my “spanglish” I don’t know the name of the english versión)

  5. My first Murakami read was Kafka On The Shore, and the novel was nothing less than a revelation. The revelation of a great writer, a great imagination, a great painter of emotionally charged and fusion-culturally colorful imagery. It sucks you into Murakami’s golden-tinted melancholy world in a wonderfully dynamic and light-hearted way. I can warmly recommend it as a point of entry. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle on the other hand would be the wrong start. It’s too long, too ambitious, too sinister. It’s like watching an Ingmar Bergman film at your first ever visit to a movie theater. You may well come out a changed person, but you may also opt never to go in again.

  6. I first began reading Haruki Murakami’s novels and short stories while teaching ESL in Niigata City, Japan, several years ago. I found his stories to have all the elements of great fiction writing. The reader can very much look forward to escaping into an unparalleled, transcendent, abstract, otherworldly reading experience. He is indeed a rare breed of an author, and one can obviously see influences from a great many magnificent, gifted and clever novelists.
    Perhaps right now he would be chuckling aloud if he were to be reading this “review” due to the usual humbleness and modest ways of the Japanese culture. But, in fact, he did live a number of years in America. Now, not to get too carried away. Let’s get on with it!
    OK, here are a few writers I will allude to that influenced Murakami in some way or another (in a conscious, semi-conscious, or unconscious state). You might better understand my point when you begin reading the oft dreamy journeys of his written words that, depending on the story, will shift to intertwining “time-zones”, plots and transitions.
    Anyhow, as for some of his influences, one can recognize the utter devotion of detail and/or fine points of Franz Kafka… The nuggets of profound, reflective, and philosophical musings of Hermann Hesse… The sharp wit and humor of Kurt Vonnegut… The anticipation, passionate and suspenseful adventure of Jack London… And just maybe throw in some Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens for good measure— but along with captivating metaphysical twists!
    It all adds up to fascinating tales that can very well make or let you see the world in a different light. And somewhere in each chapter of his novels, you might also find yourself thinking aloud, “How many times have I thought these same meaningful or meaningless ‘truths’…”
    All right… And now for recommended Murakami readings: Anything! My particular favorites for the first time around?… I’d begin with “Dance, Dance, Dance” simply for its charm. Then, “A Wild Sheep Chase” to warm up for, well, wild sheep strangeness. Next, “Kafka by the Shore” for obvious reasons. And then, “Hard Boiled Wonder Land and the End of the World”— don’t miss the provocative sentence… “walking behind the woman with the plump bottom down the dark corridor”. And yes, I’ll save his best work for last… “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle”. Who couldn’t immediately fall for, and become infatuated with the sexy Japanese teenage girl in a skimpy summer dress. However, be forewarned for the travel back in time to a gruesome, grisly, violent Mongolian… well, I won’t spoil it.
    For Murakami’s prolific and most entertaining short stories, be sure to check out, “The Elephant Vanishes” and “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”.
    Although I’m aware that “Norwegian Wood” is his best-known, or was his best-selling novel, I just do not care for “mushy” romance stories. But that’s just me, and I’m sure it’s a great read.
    Now, coming very soon to a bookstore near you is his 1,000-page magnum opus, “1Q84”. By the way, the “Q” stands for the number “9” in Japanese. It is spelled “Ku” in romanized English.
    Last year in Japan, the three-volume-set masterpiece by mastermind Haruki Murakami sold out in a matter of a couple of weeks. That, I hope, should tell you something if I have not already convinced you dear reader.
    Finally, a short special request for you, Mr. Haruki Murakami. I was wondering if I could possibly receive a personally autographed book of “1Q84”, or any other one of your novels for that matter.
    BookPeople bookstore, could you assist me with this request by forwarding or notifying Mr. Haruki Murakami about this BookPeople’s blog? I’d deeply appreciate it. (I also belong to Mr. Murakami’s Facebook Page).
    Or, BookPeople and/or an employee thereof, could you please send me a brief e-mail at your earliest convenience to yahstrato@hotmail.com to let me know if you enjoyed and found this blog informative? It would really mean a lot to me.
    I reside in San Diego, California. If it would be more helpful or convenient, my phone number is: (858) 997-9929 I’m an aspiring writer with a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. Thank you very much for your consideration and time.
    Sincerely, John Harrison Packard

  7. Dear BookPeople, 9/8/11

    Whoops! I apologize for a few typos in my Haruki Murakami blog. I’d like to clear up some transitional sentence structures, pronoun use, etc. Is there a way to edit blogs once they have been submitted? Thank you very much for any information. I thoroughly enjoy your site. Again, you can reach me at:
    yahstrato@hotmail.com

    Kind regards,

    John Harrison Packard

  8. My love to Murakami started from “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and with every new book it just kept growing. But if you want to enjoy “A Wild Sheep Chase” to the full, then you need to read all books from Rat’s Trilogy.

  9. A Wild Sheep Chase was the first Murakami book I ever read, many years ago. I recently re-read it, and it still held my attention. Perhaps it is the bizarre-nature of the tale that drew me in. I highly suggest it.

  10. I say “Kafka on the Shore” is a fine place to start. That’s where I started and it gave me everything I ever wanted from an author. Since then I read “Norwegian Wood” and enjoyed it, but it didn’t take me where “Kafka” took me. I then read “A Wild Sheep Chase” and that had hints of the magic I experienced, it touched it but never quite grasped it. I’ll read another sometime, but I doubt any will give me what “Kafka” gave me and that’s fine – I’ve gotten more than I could have expected from Murakami already. Perhaps you only get that full blast once from an author no matter how prolific and talented.

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