Friday, June 20, 2003

Title: A Wild Sheep Chase
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Harvill Press

I have now read all of Haruki Murakami's novels to date (not including non-fiction Underground and story collection The Elephant Vanishes). I started with Dance Dance Dance and ended with A Wild Sheep Chase. Which is a very typical thing for me to have done. Dance Dance Dance was a random choice, taken from curiosity rather than knowledge. Knowledge came soon after as I tried to find out more having enjoyed DDD so much. So it is I find it somewhat ironic that the last book of his that I read should actually be one that is directly related to the first, and in fact it quickly becomes clear that Dance Dance Dance is a sequel of sorts to A Wild Sheep Chase. In real terms it probably doesn't make a lot of difference which order I read them - the links are made regardless. So that as I read A Wild Sheep Chase it quickly falls into place as being the same nameless narrator, his same mystery girlfriend with the gorgeous ears and the same Dolphin hotel.

The narrator has recently broken up with his wife and just started seeing this new girl. A girl who warns him that a phone call will be about sheep just as the events that lead him on a wild sheep chase are set underway. An advertising campaign that he has been responsible for featured a random photo he had been sent by a friend. But the photo features a sheep with a star on its back, a sheep that he now has to find or face the wrath of a powerful and secretive right wing businessman.

Before he knows it he is falling up leads on this sheep, with his girlfriend in tow. Hearing story after story about the mysterious power of this impossible sheep and its dangerous plans for the future of Japan. This leads him further and further into the wilds, with each new and odd character pointing the way.

A Wild Sheep Chase quickly becomes one of my favourite books by Murakami. The way it fits in with Dance Dance Dance raising the pair to a whole new level. The inferences of what is going in terms of psychic happenings and mystery work away at my mind, slowly blowing it a degree at a time. Taking the two together totally changes the two apart, because we get a better feel for who the narrator is, a greater understanding of why he reacts the way he does. The figure of his girlfriend is fleshed out by A Wild Sheep Chase, putting her well up there as one of the best and most elusive of Murakami's women - his women being seductive characters, filled with charm and mystery. Perfect foils for his inevitably male and inevitably non-descript leads.

As with the other novels by Murakami that I have particularly enjoyed he sets up a continuity that seems perfectly normal. One that we can get into and relate to, then weaves in a level of oddness. With the likes of Hardboiled Wonderland he totally flips that idea out there, though with Dance Dance Dance and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and A Wild Sheep Chase the construction is more subtle and effective for that.

Once you become aware of Murakami and look around you quickly realize that there are a lot of people reading his work. In some ways whether you get into it or not probably depends on you individually and where you start with his work. Personally I feel that A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance are essential reading, as are many of his other works.

June 2003

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