Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Wild Sheep ChaseA Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say that I’m pretty much obsessed with Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase now.

In his interview with Paris Review, Murakami said that Norwegian Wood is a strategic choice, written as his attempt to break into the mainstream, an easy reading that might attract people to read his other works.

In my case, it’s the other way round.

Norwegian Wood is the first Murakami book I read.  After that I found Kafka on the Shore but somehow decided that I’ve had enough Murakami at the time. Despite being considered as an easy reading, Norwegian Wood left the uncomfortable aftertaste that I wanted so much to shake off of my mind. I enjoyed reading the story with its late sixties setting and Beatles songs, but I guess the story about rebellious youth always has this subtle, nagging bitterness. At least that’s how it feels for me. So I figured I’d better try reading another book instead of drowning myself deeper into the bitterness.

That was four years ago, and it wasn’t until last week that I finally had the courage to read Murakami again.

A Wild Sheep Chase is my second Murakami’s book. I found it on the library shelf, stacked between Sputnik Sweetheart and The Wind Up Bird Chronicles. All hard cover editions. I picked A Wild Sheep Chase at the time because, honestly, it’s not hard covered, and it’s the thinnest. It won’t cause too much trouble to be carried everywhere and I’d be able to read it even when standing in the middle of the crowded train.

It turns out that I love the book.

It started out simply. A young advertising executive received a postcard from a friend, and suddenly found himself involved in a surreal chaos with his life at stake. He used the photographin the postcard from his long lost friend for one of his advertisements, and strange things after strange things followed after that. The picture of scenery of mountain and a herd of sheep in the postcard attracted certain party and he was finally forced to launch into an impossible search to find one strange sheep that was in the picture.

Hesitant at first, the young advertising executive finally decided to pursue the search, leaving his quiet and lonely life behind in Tokyo, and went to the dying village far up on the mountain to find the strange sheep. There, up on the quiet mountain, he found the sheep and also his long lost friend.

A Wild Sheep Chase for me is not only a story about the power of a mythical sheep, but also the inevitable loneliness every one of us feels as human.

All the characters in the book were unnamed. Even the main protagonist, the young advertising agency executive, was nameless. He was pictured as a boring man with a boring life. His name was never mentioned, and when he’s checking into hotels, he used fake name. His ex wife was nameless. His ex girl friend from back at the college days, was called ‘the girl who would sleep with anyone’. No name. His other girlfriend was also nameless. The person who forced him to launch into the search of a strange sheep, was referred to as ’the man in black suit’ and the boss of the man in the black suit was referred to as Mr. X. His best friend who’s also his partner in owning the advertising agency, was referred to as ‘my partner’. His long lost friend was referred to as the Rat.  The Rat’s ex girlfriend was referred to as ‘she’. His cat was nameless until he left for the search of the sheep and was named Kipper by a nameless limousine driver, for the sake of having a name.

The story was delivered in short sentences that somehow give you a feeling like there was something hanging in the air between the characters, the weight of the unspoken words and thoughts, creating an atmosphere of depressing silence. And the nameless characters just add more weight to it.Though not directly related to the main story, each character in the book is a story of sheer loneliness that was fully acknowledge of and consciously lived with.

Another inevitable bitterness alright. But perhaps the surreal setting helps in making it more bearable. Because I finished the book quite within a record of time, and I continued right away with The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (next on my list is Sputnik Sweetheart and The Elephant Vanishes).

A Wild Sheep Chase is the last part of the Trilogy of the Rat. I just found out about this after I finished reading the book and I really really wish I could go to Japan to purchase the first and second book since the English translation of the first and second book were not published outside of Japan.

By the way, just a side note, this has again reminded me that when choosing books, it might be wise to start with the less popular one.

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