“A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami  (1989) – 352 pages

Haruki Murakami, before becoming a writer, owned a jazz club called Peter Cat in Tokyo for about eight years.  I believe his owning a jazz club as well as his deep lifelong interest in Western literature are the main reasons that Murakami’s fiction is so accessible to western readers.  His work is more accessible to western readers than that of many western writers.  Yet at the same time Murakami has millions of Japanese readers.  Among certain groups of people, discussing which is your favorite Murakami is a popular parlor game.   As the following quote shows, the qualities of music greatly influence his fiction.    

    “Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.”

    Haruki Murakami in an essay called “Jazz Messenger” in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, July 8, 2007

 My favorite books by Murakami are ‘Norwegian Wood” and his book of stories, “Blind Willow, Weeping Woman”.  His work is surreal, poignant, and humorous 

 Lately there has been a lot of talk about Haruki Murakami as a contender for the Nobel Prize in literature.  I think he would make a great Nobel Prize choice.  Giving the award to so popular a writer as Murakami would energize the award creating a lot of interest and publicity.  I also do think that the literary quality of his novels and stories make Murakami justly deserving of the award.

 The book I just read, “A Wild Sheep Chase”, is not one of my favorite Murakami favorites.  It is actually the least favorite of his works that I’ve read so far.   The novel is exactly what its title suggests, “A Wild Sheep Chase”, or as we used to call these pointless efforts, a wild goose chase.  The novel starts out strong enough, when a nameless young Tokyo advertising executive finds out that a former lover has died in a traffic accident.  Then we find out that the executive’s marriage has fallen apart and he takes up with a professional ‘ear’ model whose ears are so well formed they are used in advertisement photographs.  At this point in the novel, I still had high expectations for the novel.  Then the wild sheep chase to Hokkaido in northern Japan begins.

 During the wild sheep chase we are given a lot of detail information about sheep and sheep farming.  That is when I lost interest in the story.  I know, I know, it’s Murakami‘s riffs that count, not the specific details.  It’s almost as if Murakami is challenging himself to make even a story about chasing after a sheep interesting.  I just did not get into the spirit of the thing; it may have been my fault.  We get introduced to all these new characters up in northern Japan who really have little or no ties to the main character, and it’s all about finding this one sheep with a star on its back.  This all seemed so inconsequential; I just couldn’t find it in my mind or heart to care about it.

 Even my favorite authors have one or two books that I don’t consider up to their best.  I won’t hold ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’ against Murakami, because there are many positive reviews for this novel.  It just didn’t work for me.  I still think that Murakami is worthy of the Nobel.   

 Murakami’s latest highly-anticipated two-volume novel; 1Q84, is due out in the United States this October.

 Now for a little-known fact about Murakami.  He has run the Boston Marathon six times.

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