This blog has once more taken on the mantle of a serious Hanshin Tigers fan site- I’ll try to redress the balance with more book and film reviews, as well as a return to the blogs’ raison d’etre with some travel stuff in a few months (Turkey and Morocco beckon). Here are my thoughts on re-reading one of my favourite Murakami novels…
The order in which I originally read the available books of Haruki Murakami has since been lost in time, but I find it quite strange that although I enjoyed Norwegian Wood the most, and rated Wind-Up Bird Chronicle the highest, it is A Wild Sheep Chase and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World that stick in my memory. On re-reading Sheep Chase, I thought I’d put down my thoughts in an unhurried fashion, to see if I can make sense of a book replete with metaphors, confusing at the best of times, always entertaining and- I feel- occasionally hinting at greatness, although I’m not entirely sure why.
Sheep Chase tells the story of an unnamed protagonist, sent into a World of the Strange in search of his old friend The Rat, a mysterious sheep, and, one might suggest, some sort of meaning in life. The novel opens with him attending the funeral of a girl who died at 25 having done nothing special with her life, on the verge of divorcing his wife, and in a job that has stalled with a partner who is verging on alcoholism. Nothing is going for our main character, and he is not happy. The book then takes a strange turn into the world of a right-wing leader, rich and nameless, on the verge of death. Murakami uses the conversation between Unnamed Protagonist and the leader’s Assistant to discuss the deficiencies of consumer capitalism- the dull mediocrity of the masses, the illcit gains of the few, hidden behind the shadows. In the case of Japan, this is intimately connected to the great ‘dark shadow’ of pre-war Showa ultra-nationalism. This spectre hanging over Japan is present in a number of Murakami tales, and a victim is given a face in the Sheep Man later in the novel- a character frozen in time, representing the guilt and pain from the war that has- in Murakami’s eyes- not yet been adequately dealt with. As Protagonist journeys up into the far reaches of Hokkaido, I felt nostalgia for when I visited my friend up there- he lived in a very similar place to the middle-of-nowhere town 3-4 hours from Asahikawa mentioned in the novel- indeed he also lived 3-4 hours from Asahikawa! The novel reaches a magnificent and scary climax, and Protagonist realises the fate of Rat Man and the Sheep. Without wanting to spoil the ending, the Sheep – the great metaphor of the work – seems to represent all the unsavoury, the driving force behind capitalist greed, and ultra-nationalism in pre-war Japan- indeed all the ills of the world perhaps. Many of these themes are expanded upon in later Murakami novels. At the same time, the Sheep was just that- a Sheep- and Murakami is quite capable of mixing the light, humorous (or even banal and trivial) with the surreal and frivolous, with the deep and meaningful, without one ever being sure what is what and where it all leads.
It goes without saying that I highly recommend it.