Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

This is the stragest piece of fiction literature I've read in a long time. If you have ever read anything by Murakami, you will know what I mean when I tell you it's a bit too quirky for me to summarize without the novel sounding as though it's too far fetched to be enjoyable. If you're in the other camp and haven't read anything by him, I strongly recommend you check him out.

The narrator is a mediocre, nameless man living in Japan as a co-owner of an advertising company that he started originally as a translating service with his alcoholic best friend. At the opening of the novel, the narrator is dealing with a recent divorce to a woman we know little about except that she kept detailed records of her sex life. He begins a relationship with a call girl who has "the most bewitching, perfectly formed ears." When her ears are covered, she's a plain looking woman with no intrigue. When her ears are uncovered, she's more or less an insta-sex goddess with psychic abilities. It only gets weirder from here.

The narrator is contacted by a man working for dying government leader because of a picture he used in an ad that contains the physical manifestation of a mythological sheep. The narrator did not take the picture himself. It was sent to him by an old friend he calls the Rat who has more or less disappeared. The narrator is given an ultimatum: Find the sheep or else. This prompts him and his lady friend to run all over Japan on a wild sheep chase. I don't want to go into anything that happens after this because I don't want to spoil it for you.

Other notes:
-For a novel translated into English from Japanese, the language flows very well. I would have thought that this was written in English to begin with if I had not noticed the note at the beginning of the book saying otherwise.
-Murakami doesn't seem to like giving his characters names. Only two characters are given names that aren't simply descriptions like "my girlfriend" or "the Strange Man." Those characters are J, the bar owner, and their friend Rat, which are both nicknames rather than given names. I found this a little odd.
-The book opens with a little story about a woman the narrator had a casual sexual relationship with during his college years that seems to have no relation to the rest of the text and that this was never tied in bothered me.
-If you visit the author's website, there's a section that tells you what he ate, drank, and listened to while he was writing various different books, and I found that interesting. He also has a play list that includes all the songs referenced to in his novels. For a Japanese man, he includes a lot of American music from the sixties and seventies in his writing.
-This book is a part of a trilogy that for some reason has four books instead of three. As Nathan noted in his review of Pinball, some of the books in the trilogy are now out of print in the US.
-Sometimes I think Murakami is trying to be weird on purpose. (Think Tom Robbins.) It's one thing to have an unusual plot (refreshing) but when you throw in things like a gigantic whale penis and a possessed, homeless man in a sheep outfit, one has to wonder.


Nihil Novum said...

I know what you mean about the weirdness. I read The Wind Up Bird Chronicles last year and, although I enjoyed it, it was really, really strange.

Also, if you don't like unresolved plotlines, never read WUB. I'd say half the plot points on the book were left completely unresolved.

Christopher said...

There's no way the title of this book is "A Wild Sheep Chase" in Japanese.

Brooke said...

Brent-- I want to read the rest of his books, but I think I am going to wait a little while and space them out. I want to read Kafka on the Shore before Wind Up Bird, though.

Christopher--The Japanese title is The Adventure's of. . . well, the adventures of something about sheep, but I can't remember what. I wouldn't have known that if my professor hadn't told me.

All through the novel, the main character is reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, so that's probably why.

Christopher said...

The Adventures of Sheeplock Holmes

Carlton said...

This book sounds like an epic crack dream.

Nihil Novum said...

Yeah, that's kind of how I felt about WUB. I'd like to read something else but I just needed a break first.

Christopher said...

gigantic whale penis = redundant

Brooke said...

Yes, but the narrator went into great detail about how the large nature of the whale penis affected him psychologically and how during sex he compared his own sexual anatomy to that of the whale. So the problem was not necissarily that the whale had a large endowment but that there was another creature whose endowment was on display somewhere where other people could go and see it and that was bigger than his own by comparison.

During his youth the narrator would spend hours enraptured by looking at the whale penis that was severed from the actual whale and put on display in the aquarium, so whale and the whale penis became two different things in his head, so maybe it is not redundant except at first glance.

I don't know why I needed to defend myself.

Elizabeth said...

This is the strangest sequence of comments I have ever seen.