Jun 29, 2010

[Books] Wild Sheep Chase

Wild Sheep ChaseMost of Haruki Murakami's books are pretty much one-shots - standalone stories of wonder and beauty. So when I discovered that there were actually two interconnected titles that act almost like a little franchise amongst all the other books, well, then I knew it would be worth getting into. But then again, I also feel that almost any Murakami novel is worth getting into.

Okay, maybe I believe any book written by Haruki Murakami is more than worth it. So there.

Murakami is a visionary writer who manages to mix contemporary character with worlds of wonder and situations that seem more like fantasy than mundane reality. Plus he is able to mix in elements of post-war Japan into this amazing tapestry of words that helps paint a clearer picture of what may be just beneath the surface of Japan's wounded psyche.

This book was striking for so many reasons and it certainly stands apart from the others even after almost three decades since its original publishing.

A Wild Sheep Chase starts in the same way that many other Murakami novels start - within the mind of a nameless protagonist. We are placed in the shoes of a man who seems to have lost all passion and interest in life. His wife divorces him and he finds himself unable to care about what this means or how he should feel about it. Eventually he falls in love (or lust) for a girl unlike any other - one whose ears are so exquisite that just the sight of them increases the pleasure of sex tenfold. But it's not just the mere sight of her ears that achieves this effect. She must somehow turn them on, thus triggering their staggering power, if you can call it that.

But then he receives a postcard from his friend whom we only know as Rat sends him a postcard with photos of some supposedly very special sheep, then begins the wild sheep chase referred to in the title. Thus the story turns into a mystery of sorts as he hunts down the sheep while trying to avoid the forces of an elusive "boss" kingpin character who also wants one of these sheep for himself. What makes the sheep so special may not be immediately apparent, and perhaps their nature might best be explained by the oracular Sheep Man that the protagonist will eventually encounter.

The signature of Haruki MurakamiImage via Wikipedia
Weirded out yet? Well that's Murakami for you. What's stranger still is that while this book does eventually get a fully translated sequel, it in itself is actually the third in a trilogy of books about the nomadic character Rat. Jay Rubin translations of these novels do not exist at this point and one can only dream of at least reading the rough English translations published in Japan many years ago.

Why must exquisite ears produce such a sexual effect? Why is the Sheep Man dressed like a sheep? How could a bunch of sheep be so special? You may not like the answers that you'll get to these questions, but in a Murakami novel, you need to accept more of the magical in order to progress. It's not like we ever fully understood why there are psychic prostitutes (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles) or even mysterious figures on the other side of TV sets (After Dark), but that's just how things go. There are deeper mysteries to be explored and understood and such characters are merely pit stops along the way and are not the ultimate puzzles to be deciphered in themselves.

The Sheep Man was one of the more intriguing characters of the Murakami universe, and I think I certainly have good reason for thinking so. I mean seriously, he seems to insane to be real but at the same time who ever said he had to be real? A lot of these characters may just be figments of the protagonists imagination and maybe things are just a lot more plain and ordinary. Maybe the divorce affected him in more ways than expected and thus this whole secret mission of sorts was maybe just the ramblings of a mind that has snapped. You can never really tell for sure and it's just one of the many, many reasons why I love Murakami novels.

This one in particular was an interesting of Western and Eastern influences. Sure, the entire plot plays out like a classic Western mystery (with obvious Sherlock Holmes references) but at the same time it's firmly situated in Japan and certainly touched by its qualities and the like. Murakami managed to merge the two worlds together almost seamlessly and its hard to determine where one ends and the other begins to fly off into the sunset.

While this book isn't quite my favorite, it certainly ranks high up there. Plus there's the odd fact that Dance, Dance, Dance acts as a direct sequel to this book and reading that title is a lot harder if you never read this one to begin with. And thus you now know where to begin.

A Wild Sheep Chase is everything but a ridiculous, pointless ovine quest but is instead an intriguing mix of mystery, fantasy and everything Japanese. It gets 4 mysterious hotel rooms out of a possible 5.

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