Monday, 8 September 2014

Haruki Murakami - Book Review - Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

Publishers must love Haruki Murakami for he delivers on every front. He writes literary fiction that sells like its commercial counterpart. His style is easy to read and yet contains subtle nuances, hidden depths. It is Zen-like in its direct simplicity but reveals layers of emotion and of character weaknesses and strengths that highlight human frailties. Often his work has a surreal quality, Kafkaesque perhaps, but always remains true to him, his culture and his country - Japan. Cited by many as being the greatest living novelist but also the doyen of post-modern writing. He wins and has done for a number of years award after award. There seems no end to his talents.

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage is Murakami's fourteenth novel translated into English.  A lot of expectant weight rested upon its publication. Prior to releasing the novel had sold a million copies. Like the band he is so fond of quoting The Beatles, Murakami ticks all the right boxes. Like the band, he is not without flaws.

“I dream. Sometimes I think that's the only right thing to do.”  ― Sputnik Sweetheart
Tsukuru Tazaki is in desperate need of someone pointing out he isn't quite as bland a character as he believes. Sure, his four friends from way back when to dump him without a hint of why. Is it because he went to Tokyo leaving them behind? Or simply that he is such a loner, so removed from how to be part of a group, that he simply, by default, removed himself? Their act, unexplained and sudden leaves him feeling insecure.

He discusses the separation, albeit reluctantly with Sara his girlfriend. He leaves her in no doubt that although the manner in which the friends dumped him hurt, the pain wasn't sufficient to arouse him to confront them to find out why.

We learn of Haida a friend Tazaki meets after moving to Tokyo and again, after a close but paradoxically distant friendship Haida leaves this time without a word. The hurt from the first parting becomes all the more intense with the second.

Tazaki then listens to Sara who uncovers on his behalf not only where his old friends are but also other, sadder news - one of the gang has died. Sara persuades him to go back to confront his old friends which he does.

Again we meet the isolationism so often seen in Murakami's work. There does seem to be a fascination with loneliness in much of his fiction and it re-emerges here. One against the many, an outsider looking in perplexed by what he sees. This theme is one he returns to over and again. In this, he is much like any artist who seeks to understand not only himself but also human psyche.  Of course there is an element of biography in his work, there is bound to be for anyone who writes takes truths and warps or examines them.

I find it hard to write anything less than praiseworthy about an author whose work I enjoy. This is not his best work. Although less surreal than say The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage still retains that Magical Realism favoured by so many authors who prefer that label to fantasy. In the hands of Murakami it normally is a deftly applied tool. Here, I found it a little false.

His writing style is, as I have said on a previous post, subtle. It is coloured in pastels, delicate hues that add shades that tease the reader into closer inspection but which resist giving the whole thread a more solid foundation but rather urges you on, as with a Faberge Egg, to uncover more. You never do of course but are left with a multitude of feelings from lost to lonely; from melancholic to puzzled. Here I was more confused than enlightened.

In essence, Murakami holds a mirror up to reflect not only his personality but that of mankind's. It is a self-examining process that provides, in this instance, an interesting though not scintillating read.  That is not to say this is a bad novel. Far from it.

Finally, there is the cover. Not the dust sleeve which is lovely in itself but the binding. With its splash of circles coloured blue, white. black and red which overlay each other creating, as colours do when merged, other shades. This truly reveals how the book reads which is perhaps not as good as Norwegian Wood or my personal favourite South of the Border, West of the Sun but still good.

Sometimes we elevate those we admire to impossible heights. Maybe I am guilty of that here. Murakami remains a literary giant even if he, like the rest of us, doesn't always live up to what we demand.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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