In brief: Tsukuru used to be part of a wonderful group of friends. But suddenly, they cut him off while he was at university. Years later, Tsukuru bears the scars and doesn’t know why. Until his girlfriend asks him to find out…
The good: It’s Murakami and my edition is so beautiful!
The not-so-good: It’s great, but not quite my favourite.
Why I chose it: Murakami + close proximity to Australia’s best bookshops on release day = purchase!
Publisher: Harvill Secker (translated by Philip Gabriel)
Setting: Japan and Finland
My rating: 9 out of 10
I bought Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage on release day. Early. I made it my mission to buy this before I left Melbourne to return home and rocked up to a bookstore just after opening. I carried it home carefully in my hand luggage. And even though it was released nearly a year ago, I didn’t read it until recently. Why? I guess it’s because I always like to have some Murakami I haven’t read up my sleeve and really, this book is so pretty, it just needs to be stared at for some time. I also received in my copy the slightly infamous stickers, but I haven’t opened them. (I’m even less likely to use them to decorate my copy). This is such an aesthetically pleasing book that I just want to keep it forever.
As for the story, unfortunately it’s not the insta-love I felt for 1Q84 and Norwegian Wood. A friend from work and I have discussed this at length and she feels it’s closest to Norwegian Wood in content. While it’s ‘straight’ (i.e. very few of those Murakami ‘what-the?’ moments like talking cats/frogs or multiple moons), I don’t think it has the depth, beauty or melancholy that Norwegian Wood does. She also thinks that it’s written to be hip and meet the current culture. I don’t agree – Tsukuru, the main character rarely uses the internet, Facebook etc. which doesn’t make him current in my book. I think the overall theme of friendship, loss and moving on is more universal. If you’re looking for an out there Murakami you can analyse until the cows come home, this one isn’t it. It’s a pleasant story of Tsukuru, a man who designs and builds railway stations who is haunted by something that happened when he was at university. He used to be in a very close knit group of friends, all who had names linked to colours (his means build). They did everything together. However, one holiday when Tsukuru returned from university, they all shunned him. They didn’t want to be friends anymore and they said he knew why.
But Tsukuru didn’t know why. Since then, his life has been solitary with what few friends he has disappearing. You could say (and Tsukuru would agree with you) that it’s affected his whole life. But Tsukuru’s new girlfriend Sara encourages (actually, more like demands) that he resolve this issue in his life. She tracks them down and it’s up to Tsukuru to meet them and find out what happened. The bulk of the novel is Tsukuru meeting each of his former friends and finding out what happened, with them and with their friendship. In typical Murakami fashion, not everything is answered. There are enough loose threads and ‘what-ifs’ to have you wondering for a day or two. It’s not as involved as 1Q84 or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle but it’s a pleasant journey, one that I was more than happy to take.
As always, Murakami’s work demands that you read each word and savour it like an expensive chocolate. Philip Gabriel is the translator and once again, he does a wonderful job, capturing the essence of the Japanese lifestyle and bringing to English the intense sense of loneliness in Tsukuru’s life. As anyone who has spent time in railway stations in Japan would know, they are a work of art and I found it fascinating that this is Tsukuru’s job. We get a glimpse of what his job is like, but it’s more of a metaphor for Tsukuru’s life – always moving, never stopping to contemplate. It’s only when he reflects on how his friends have done and his relationship with Sara that he slows down to reflect. Is this a comment on modern culture, that we rush around like shinkansen, never stopping to think beyond the next station? Perhaps. But Murakami’s work is always full of symbolism and I could write forever on what it all might mean and I could be completely wrong. Anyway, with the release of Wind/Pinball this week I haven’t got time for that – time to move on to the next Murakami station. While this may not be Murakami’s best work, it’s an enjoyable read that will satisfy Murakami cravings.