He only spoke to people when necessary, and after school, he would return to his solitary apartment, sit on the floor, lean back against the wall and ponder death and the failures of his life. Before him lay a huge, dark abyss that ran straight through to the earth’s core. All he could see was a thick cloud of nothingness swirling around him; all he could hear was a profound silence squeezing his eardrums.
To say this was an unusual book would be an understatement, given Murakami’s famously strange subject matter and plots that are difficult to describe. Tsukuru had a group of four friends in high school whose names all mean a specific colour, but his name doesn’t. When they unexpectedly and unceremoniously exclude him from the group he becomes depressed and nearly kills himself, but sixteen years later is prompted to find out what actually happened by a woman he’s dating. So far, so strange. I’m given to understand, from looking at a couple of other reviews, that this book contains a lot of tropes which Murakami often uses – a mysterious woman, the supernatural, the difficulty of growing up, train stations, jazz, and urban ennui – but while I was not tired of them, as others seemed to be, I cannot honestly say I enjoyed them. I have always wantd to read more of Murakami’s work, and maybe I started with the wrong book having only read a short story collection and some non-fiction by him before, but reading this has not inspired me to read other books by him if it will be more of the same.
‘Though he lacked a striking personality, or any qualities that made him stand out, and despite always aiming for what was average, the middle of the road, there was (or seemed to be) something about him that wasn’t exactly normal , something that set him apart. And this contradiction continued to perplex and confuse him, from his boyhood all the way to the present, when he was thirty-six years old. Sometimes the confusion was momentary and insubstantial, at other times deep and profound.’
Tsukuru is not a very symapthetic character. While I felt for him in the first hundred pages or so, when he was trying to cope with his depression and exestential crises and trying to figure out why his friends had abandoned him, as the novel progressed he just kept whining about the same things over and over again and never seemed to change despite his travels trying to find his friends and solve the mystery of their dissapearance. For a supposed mystery story about friendship and the difficulties of growing up, not much seemed to happen except for him talking to people, having vivid erotic dreams, sitting in train stations and generally moping about. As well as this, something that really irked me was the book’s portrayal of women – we’re more than just breasts, you know. I read this book in a day not because I really enjoyed it but so I could move on to another book.
‘Jealousy […] was the most hopeless prison in the world. Jealousy was not a place he was forced into by someone else, but a jail in which the inmate entered voluntarily, locked the door, and threw away the key. And not another soul in the world knew he was locked inside. Of course if he wanted to escape, he could do so. The prison was, after all, his own heart.’
While initially I found the writing style to be refreshing change after the dense prose of The Queens of Innis Lear, after a while it began to feel amateurish, almost too simplistic, and yet at the same time as though every line had to be lyrical and poetic and have some deeper meaning. I’m not sure if this is actually Murakami’s style or a consequence of the traslation from Japanese, but either way, despite my enjoyment of some of his other works, nothing particularly stood out for me about any of them. I might actually retract my earlier statement about maybe picking up another of his books in the future – this was my first book by Murakami, and it may very well be my last.