I am a massive fan of Murakami’s writing. He’s penned some of the greatest novels of the last 30 years, with his output generally falling into 3 broad categories – the long, weird novels (think The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, or the incomparable 1Q84), the shorter, more ‘normal’ novels (Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart), and the collections of short stories (which I admit I can’t get into). Murakami is definitely a master of the long version.
I’m always aware when I read Murakami I’m reading a translation from the original Japanese, but the linguistics or translation are almost never an issue. In any case, the prose and style are generally secondary to his unique imagination, and the time and space required for his tales to unfold.
But even his more ‘normal’ novels, such as this one, are based on extremely original ideas, and there’s almost always an element that jumps out unexpectedly (in this novel, it’s a dream). This is written incredibly beautifully, but is almost impossible to describe. If you’re familiar with Murakami’s work, you’ll know that you won’t see it coming, and it’s very surreal. The dream is central to what unfolds through the rest of the book.
Murakami’s 13th novel tells the story of five friends who met at high school in Nagoya. Three guys, two girls; all of the relationships are deep, but strictly platonic. Four of the five have a colour somewhere in their name. Tazaki doesn’t – he sees himself as colourless. The five are inseparable, but one day, midway through university, Tazaki receives a phone call from one of the others telling him they don’t want to see or hear from him ever again. There’s no explanation, and he is too stunned to ask for one.
What follows are his ‘years of pilgrimage’, during which he disassociates himself from the world (apart from his work) and doesn’t particularly care whether he lives or dies. As the novel unfolds, Tazaki realises that his ostracising from the group was based on false grounds. In trying to move on emotionally, he reconnects with the other four of his ex-friends and learns that they regret what they did to Tazaki, and ultimately what they did to themselves because the group subsequently drifted apart without him (like the five fingers on a hand, each finger is important).
Reconnection with the others touches on an interesting theme of the modern age – there is so much information about people can easily be found, online for example, but underneath we often know little about the people we love.
I wouldn’t say this is one of Murakami’s best, but it’s still very well worth reading. If you’re new to his work, this is a good place to start.