Friday, March 25, 2016

Contemporary Fiction: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

After learning that A Wild Sheep Chase was the third installment in the trilogy of the Rat, which began with Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, I moved the blog schedule around a bit just so I could squeeze in yet another book by Haruki Murakami. Eventually I will have to get to Dance Dance Dance as it is part four of the series. Most likely when Murakami publishes his next novel, I will take time out to explore it as well.

The Situation: It has been quite some time since we last heard from the unnamed narrator in Wind/Pinball. Since those two stories, he has gotten married, and then divorced, and the small translation company he started with his friend has grown into a full-scale advertising firm with many employees. He also has a new girlfriend who is an ear model, of all things. He still seems to suffer from the same lack of direction and purpose, as well as overall loneliness. And he has not really heard from the Rat in quite some time. 

The Problem: A strange man visits our narrator at his company with a request, which turns out to be really more of a demand. Recently, the narrator created a piece of advertising for a client, using a picture of sheep in a pasture that was sent to him by the Rat. It is this picture that interests the strange man, as he wants the narrator to find the pasture, and one sheep in particular that happened to make it into the picture. The strange man also wants every piece of advertising that features the photo pulled from circulation, even though that would mean great losses for the company and possibly a ruined reputation. If the narrator refuses, or fails, the strange man promises to ruin him and the company. And even though the narrator agrees, failure seems like a real possibly as he is given a deadline of one month. Thus, he embarks on a literal wild sheep chase, but of course the adventure ends up resulting in so much more.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in late 1970s Japan. One thing about this book is that no one is given a real name. Other than J, a bar owning friend of the narrator; the Sheep Professor, a hermit-like elderly gentleman obsessed with sheep; and the Rat, everyone is referred to in general terms. There is the narrator himself, his girlfriend, his ex-wife, his alcoholic friend that he works with, his employees, the strange man, the chauffeur, and the Boss. No names like John, or Chris, or Ken, or anything, are ever used. And the same was true for both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball. And like other Murakami novels, there is an odd blurring between the real and surreal. Things that simply do not happen in real life are brought into the story and, for the most part, are accepted occurrences. And for those looking for other common Murakami themes, I will confirm that there is a (flatulent) cat, weird dreams, the odd details about food and cooking, and of course, the hapless male protagonist. 

My Verdict: For me, Murakami tends to be hit or miss as to whether or not I actually enjoy reading the book, and while I was dubious at first, I will say that this one turned out to be a hit. I feared that the ending would be rushed, or at the very least just unsatisfactory. Fortunately, it was actually neither. The entire story was just the right mixture of strange and simple, with the plot not being so far out there that it was hard to grasp. And ultimately, the story was an adventure that allowed the protagonist to drop everything on go on a seemingly impossible mission. A classic adventure story is easy to mess up, and it can be incredibly satisfying when it is done as well as this one was. 

Favorite Moment: When the narrator is listing off all of the tasks that must be done when taking care of his elderly, fat, sick, and ridiculously gassy cat.

Favorite Character: This can be hard because most of the story is spent inside of the narrator's head, with other characters coming in and out of the story for brief amounts of time, and yet I cannot really say that the narrator is my favorite character. If I had to pick, I guess I would choose Kipper, the gassy cat.

Recommended Reading: Just like last week, I recommend Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It is still my favorite one, although 1Q84 is also pretty great, just incredibly long.

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