Saturday, 23 August 2014

Haruki Murakami- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami
2013 (Japanese)/ 2014 (English)
Translated by Jay Rubin


Around two-and-half years ago I, like an idiot, decided to create a simple blog with a single objective; to obsessively compulsively review each book I read, as a personal exercise designed to make myself write more, and to understand the literature I'd read a little bit better. One of the first things I (badly) reviewed was Haruki Murakami's probably magnum opus 1Q84 (it really is quite a bad review, sorry about that), a book that I'd been extremely hyped for ever since I heard about it. So, when I finished reading, and after writing and posting my review, I automatically started tormenting myself with the knowledge that it'd no doubt be quite a while before Haruki Murakami wrote another book. From that point forward like any crazed fan I scoured the likely news sources for anything I could find, devouring each  eventual new snippet of information with aplomb. In the meantime I re-read After Dark and read Dance Dance Dance for the first time, and even wrote a pretty lazy preview of the upcoming Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I think what annoyed me the most about waiting was how the novel was being quickly translated into seemingly dozens of languages from all around the world, but the English translation (from the trusted Jay Rubin) kept me waiting and waiting.

When Colorless (which I'm going to spell without the 'u', even though as an Englishman this sickens me) finally arrived in the post, I didn't have the patience to allocate it a spot on the to-read pile and as soon as I'd finished The Art of Hunger I happily dove into it. Twenty-four hours later and I'd finished it, though its imprint has held tightly onto my thoughts ever since- to be absolutely honest, to do a fair review of this book I think I'd have to read it twice. I did contemplate doing that but there's only so many hours in the day and so many books to read, so for now I can only give my still raw impressions of a fascinating book. First things first, the immediate urge for many people on the Internet has been to classify this book within Murakami's bibliography in relation to its fellows. I hesitantly have to agree with the majority of opinions in classifying this as a 'minor' work, in that it's not an extremely complex odyssey in the manner of his longer works like Kafka on the Shore or 1Q84, but more in the vein of a more realistic psychological character study through relationships, like Norwegian Wood and South of the Border, West of the Sun. Again I emphasis I hesitate in using the word 'minor' since it seems to downgrade a book by its usage, which in this case would be very unfair. 

So, to the plot. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is the tale of a man named Tsukuru Tazaki who was caused great pain under mysterious circumstances in his youth and as an adult is finally ready to discover what happened. As a student and adolescent, Tsukuru was part of a very close-knit group of friends whom he loved and relied upon, until one day the other four ousted him from the group permanently, without a single explanation. After going through a period of great sadness, Tsukuru is pushed into confronting his past by a new girlfriend, to finally contact his old friends to discover just why he was ostracized. I'll refrain from going in to more detail, since the magic of Murakami's writing is in his beautiful contemplative prose, the quality of which is so great that my clumsy attempts to describe it only does it a disservice. I will say that the hook of an interesting mystery, one that proposes more questions when investigated, drew me in to the narrative very quickly, but, in a slight criticism, I must confess to being disappointed that the book doesn't really follow the detective direction for very long.

The overriding factor to Colorless is that it's extremely introspective, and Tsukuru Tazaki might be Murakami's most introspective character yet. Murakami goes to great pains to describe his mind, to emphasise and clarify the emotions that life's troubles have forced upon him, and how his discoveries through the novel change him in certain ways. The theme of psychological rebirth is fairly upfront, as is the trauma of emotion, the pointlessness of hindsight, and a constant feeling of surreality. Unlike say, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, here Murakami chooses to limit his supernatural surrealist tendencies to strange dream sequences, leaving a few open-ended possibilities for the reader to mull over (that I won't spoil, but which hark back to previous situations in Murakami novels where characters are unsure what they have or haven't done and can never find out the truth).

Overall I can't help but agree with the majority that Colorless isn't on the same level of quality fiction as Murakami's epic longer novels because in comparison it's very limited. The cast of characters is small, the events are subdued, and it lacks a particularly dramatic ending. It's based around an easy to understand concept, tackled from a few different directions with the aid of a likable, normal main character, but without the aid of the excessive surrealness Murakami gives some of his novels. It's an experimental character study that revels in the development of said character, using episodes of his past and present to paint a cohesive picture of depression and eventual recovery, of the folly of youth, and of the power of a good relationship. I really enjoyed it on the same scale as I did Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart, where the weirdness is controlled and mostly limited to tone, and the characters can breathe with the advantage of a realistic environment. I do, however, admittedly prefer Murakami's weird side so this definitely wasn't amongst my favourites, but I did remain enthralled throughout. It demands a re-read, and although that probably won't happen for a little while, the events of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage will be floating in my mind for some time to come.