Friday, 10 April 2009

A Wild Sheep Chase - Haruki Murakami

Read: November 2008

A Wild Sheep Chase in one sentence:
Murakami’s first internationally published novel, this contains all the bizarre events, lonesome conversations, and disperate characters which make his books such a joy to read.

Over the years I have developed one hard and fast rule when it comes to selecting my next book to read. If ever I get stuck with a book and would prefer to watch any old football on TV than read a book - in short, if I ever fall out of love with reading - then I turn to Haruki Murakami to rectify the situation.

This policy has proved pretty much infallible. Within fifty pages of picking up any of Murakami's titles I am engrossed in the adventure. I can't say whether this is due to some affinity with Murakami's typical well-meaning loaner characters, his down-to-earth and familiar way of telling a story, or some other indefinable quality, but I find it an absolute joy to get lost for a while in his books.

A Wild Sheep Chase is one of the more bizarre of his works, though this is difficult to quantify. It follows the adventure of an unnamed protagonist whose nothing special life is curtailed when he is blackmailed into searching for a mysterious sheep with a star on its back which may or may not be running the world. Add into the mix a chauffeur with the phone number for God, a runaway friend known only as 'The Rat,' and a genius sheep professor with a bad temper and you have a madcap and mysterious escapade which will confound your expectations with almost every flick of the page.

This is the first of Murakami's novels to be published in English outside of Japan, and perhaps shows a little less polish than some of his later efforts, but this is in many ways a good thing. Metaphysical conversations take place, but Murakami has not yet found a way to express his ideas with complete clarity, and so these conversations take on an even greater level of spectral uncertainty. This is Murakami at his least substantial. Reading it feels like a dream that would become a nightmare if you weren't lying in a state of post-orgasmic bliss next to someone you love. I don't know if that makes sense, but it seems to capture something of the illusive and imprecise joy of reading Murakami. He is an exceptional author.

I think I may now have to begin my own wild sheep chase, in order to track down affordable copies of Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball, 1973, his first two books which he never wants to be published outside of Japan. They are hard to come by, and very expensive. But it must be worth it. For the only problem with this rule of mine is that I have now exhausted the entire available backlist of Murakami's full length fiction, and have only a couple of collections of short stories to go before I have to find a new ‘go to’ author. Wish me luck.

8 out of 10

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