Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Haruki Murakami- A Wild Sheep Chase

A Wild Sheep Chase
Haruki Murakami
“What is this Will?” I asked.
“A concept that governs time, governs space, and governs possibility.”
“I don’t follow.” I said.
“Of course. Few can. Only the Boss had a virtually instinctual understanding of it. One might even go so far as to say he negated self-cognition, thereupon realizing in its place something entirely revolutionary. To put it in simple terms for you, his was a revolution of labour incorporating capital and capital incorporating labour"
It's starting to really occur to me that I seem to be reviewing books by the same authors over and over again, but I tend to get hooked on writers' full bibliographies so there's still a good few Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster and Cormac McCarthy books to go. This time it's back to 1982, and Murakami's first major work, one that I initially thought was his debut novel but is instead the final part of a selection called The Trilogy of Rats. The confusion comes from the fact that Murakami's novels are published in the UK by Vintage, but for some reason they didn't publish either Hear the Wind Sing or Pinball, 1973 and those are harder to get (in yea olde timey booke stores, I mean, not Amazon). So I bought and read this out of order, but it didn't really make a difference to me because A Wild Sheep Chase works fine as a book by itself.

That's generally because Murakami's plots are often so surreal and dis-corporate that I don't expect a book I'm reading for the first time to make direct sense to me. I'll try and accurately describe the plot of this one; an unnamed narrator (fitting the bill of Murakami's favourite lead type; male, anonymous, sensitive, detached and uncertain) introduces the reader to his life, consisting of a dull profession in advertising and P.R. with a partner, and a girlfriend with the most beautiful ears in the world. The narrator unassumingly takes possession of what he believes is merely a photograph of scenery, of a group of unknown sheep in an unknown field. Instead the photograph is far more valuable than that, as a representative large and powerful society of people approach him offering him a great sum of money for both the photo and his silence.

Naturally, the lead is far too intrigued by this strange series of events to simply let things go, and after some investigating he realises that the key to the issue is one particular sheep in the picture; one with a strange star-shaped pattern in its fur that proves to be unidentifiable to anyone. Our lead character and his girlfriend with the beautiful ears are forced by narrative law to investigate further, and so begins a confusing, paranoid, mysterious odyssey. As in Murakami's other longer fiction (like 1Q84 or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the Edge of the World), events proceed under an unpredictable logic. Characters disappear and arrive unexpectedly, as the reader and narrator become almost as equally lost as each other.

Comparing Murakami with other authors is fairly easy by now. He's clearly passionate about Western fiction, film and music, with the results seeping into his work. Like Murakami's other work it's all thematically and stylistically comparable to the surrealism of Franz Kafka (The Secret Agent, for me), and the hard-boiled dialogue of Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlow character. Or you could go deeper back in to literary history and even more roughly compare it all to a classical Oedipal odyssey, if you want to be a bit snarky and all that. To me, though Murakami throughout each of his novels remains unique because of the combination of his influences and his attributes.

A Wild Sheep chase is not amongst Murakami's best efforts, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a first time reader of the author. As the plot progressed and became more inexplicably convoluted the novel failed to match up to Murakami's later efforts (Kafka on the Shore) in presenting the absurdity and surrealism as meaningful for the character. Murakami's lead is very much an alien, who loses contact with the reader further into the novel. Ultimately I enjoyed the book as another powerful, imaginative novel through its prose and tone, but the story and the characters didn't grab me.