book review: colorless tsukuru tazaki and his years of pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the new novel by Haruki Murakami. It was more in the realm of Sputnik Sweetheart or South of the Border, West of the Sun than it was a 1Q84 or Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Really, that’s probably all the review this needs. I love Murakami novels (even the ones I have issues with) and this is very definitely a Murakami novel.

In this one, the protagonist Tsukuru Tazaki is trying to reconnect with his tight group of friends from when they were young. There’d been five of them and he was the only one who didn’t have a colour in his name. He lost contact when they all abruptly cut him off one day, out of nowhere. Tazaki is pushed into this task by a girlfriend and it involves a lot of reflection and listening to Liszt.

It didn’t get very weird. It echoed the dream responsibilities and other worlds of some of his other books, and there’s speculation about what could have happened and Tazaki’s responsibility for what a nonexistent version of himself was capable of.

I liked it. Not set on fire by it, but Murakami is my comfort reading now, so I’m okay with my brain being set aflame elsewhere.

book review: 1q84

Haruki Murakami is one of my favourite writers. I make no secret of this, so take this review with that in mind. I really liked 1Q84 (though I still don’t know how to say the title in English – it’s Ichi Kyu Hachi Yon in Japanese – maybe Nine-Cue-Eighty-Four).

One of the things about knowing an author’s work pretty well is you can see the recurrent characters and themes from other works. 1Q84 feels a bit like a greatest hits collection of Murakami themes. We have (and here thar be spoilers): two worlds being traversed (Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Sputnik Sweetheart), disappearing women (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), affairs with an older married woman (Sputnik Sweetheart), mystical people with weird powers (TV People), Ushikawa (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), a cynical older peer figure (Norwegian Wood), a piece of classical music with great significance (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, The Second Bakery Attack), cults (Underground), becoming a writer (Norwegian Wood), a thirty year old narrator vaguely disconnected from life (almost every thing Murakami’s ever written) and there are probably more. In any case, a lot of the book felt familiar, but it was all rearranged into a more or less pleasing form.

There is a fakeout ending that isn’t so severe if you read the three volumes in one shot the way my translation is put together, which was robbed somewhat of its impact. And I feel like the whole thing ended too easily. There was a lot of time spent talking about issues, restating them and not pushing forward. I feel like this could have been a leaner story, and it’s not going to be the first Murakami book I’d recommend to someone. For me so much of the pleasure was in the interplay of the old stories and seeing how these characters behaved differently from their previous incarnations.

For my money I’m still pegging Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World as my favourite Murakami novel. The themes are very similar to 1Q84’s but I think it’s a better working of them.

None of this is to suggest I think 1Q84 was a bad book. I loved it as I read it. The page-numbering goes up and down the margins, flipping into horizontal reflections as they pass the midpoint. That’s the kind of beautiful little detail emphasizing the characters’ situations that I loved to pieces, and really only gets to happen in a book by a famous writer who keeps on being in the Nobel Prize conversation.

Actually, a bit about that. I don’t really understand why Murakami would be in the running for a Nobel. I love his books, but they don’t scream “This is the pinnacle of World Literature” to me. They are books that I love but they feel too idiosyncratic to be winners of that kind of award.