Friday, November 22, 2019

Review: A Wild Sheep Chase

A Wild Sheep Chase
From A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami:

Open quote 
It was my partner. "Could you come here right away?" he said. There was an edge to his voice. "I have a terribly urgent matter to discuss with you." "Just how urgent is it?" "Come in and you'll find out," said he. "Heaven knows it's got to be about sheep," I said, letting go a trial balloon. It was something I shouldn't have said. The receiver grew cold as ice. "How did you know?" my partner asked. The wild sheep chase had begun."

If that sounds to you like the start of a surreal, absurdist mystery novel, congratulations. You're right.

Grade: B-

Haruki Murakami is probably my favorite author. I am slowly reading my way through all of his works. Most recently, I read his two first novels, which were packaged together for re-release as "Wind/Pinball". It turns out there's a third novel in the "Trilogy of The Rat," as it's now called. It's in this third novel where the young Murakami's writing style that I have come to love starts to emerge.

The notion that a sheep is at the heart of a mystery novel is slightly absurd. That it it's a magical sheep is pure Murakami whimsy. It's all presented seriously. Magical realism is the style of writing that Murakami is the master of.

In some ways, though, the mystery is only the McGuffin that Murakami uses to tell us what he's really interested in. The narrator of "A Wild Sheep Chase" is a fascinating character. Murakami uses the story to tell us about the character. His girlfriend tells him, "I don’t know, there’s something about you. Say there's an hourglass: the sand's about to run out. Someone like you can always be counted on to turn the thing over." He can be counted on here to always keep things going. He quits his job. He accepts a mission from a mysterious "boss" involved in business and politics at the highest levels. As part of that mission, he travels to the end of the Earth in pursuit of a sheep. In this case, the end of the Earth means a very isolated cabin in a remote region in Hokkaido, Japan. What he encounters there is life-changing.

There's a lot left to the reader's imagination to figure out what it all means. What's real, what's imagination, what's metaphor are not easily answered. My personal takeaway is in the words of the Sheep Professor's son, who says to our narrator, "Now my father, he's someone who’s been searching for something all his life. He's still searching today. Ever since I was a little boy, my father's told me about the white sheep that came to him in his dreams. So I always thought that's what life is like. An ongoing search."

Does it all make sense? No. Some readers may want to retitle this novel "A Wild Goose Chase". What's undeniable is that it is wild. And strange. And fun. You want it to continue.

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