Well, I finally finished reading the new Murakami novel. I read half back in April when it came out, took a long break to finish my thesis and get a job, and then finished the second half on my daily commutes. It took another month or so to digest the thing, put the two halves together, write the review, and eventually come to a sort of understanding about it. I think I liked it. You can read my review over at Neojaponisme.
My reaction reminds me a lot of the way I responded initially to Norwegian Wood: the ending surprised me and I felt like I didn’t “get” it, there wasn’t enough “weirdness” like in other Murakami books, and I didn’t appreciate the basic character interactions.
Colorless Tazaki Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage isn’t on the same level as Norwegian Wood. Murakami doesn’t capture a period the way he did in that book (even if the emotional landscape of the lead character does reflect attitudes in post-3/11 Japan). In fact, he still feels out of touch with the times a little; Tsukuru is too quick to rely on the phone when most 36-year-olds would send a text/email or post on a love interest’s Facebook wall (“Hey Sara, I know it’s 4am and I didn’t want to disturb you but I was just thinking about that green dress you wear – it’s awesome! Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!”).
The book is far better than 1Q84, but Tsukuru reminds me a lot of Tengo. He’s introverted, passive, and at times incredibly frustrating; so frustrating that when I was reading I occasionally found myself pressing my temples with my fingers so hard that I nearly brained myself. But I think that’s kind of what Murakami was going for. Tsukuru is a wounded, flawed character who finds it incredibly hard to love before he loses his friends and even more so after the fact. His actions are supposed to be frustrating. I’m sure he wishes it was easier to put himself out there.
It’s no surprise that Tsukuru finds pleasure and comfort in the ordinary, the everyday, the predictable—hard, artificial, inhuman things like Chuo Line trains coming and going on a rigid schedule at Shinjuku Station. There are scenes in the book where he just sits and watches them come and go.
I’ll be interested to see how the translation goes. Thanks again to Matt Treyvaud, David Marx, and Ian Lynam for the edits and art. Matt made an important change in the text of my review—initially I’d written Tsukuru’s friends’ names as Ao, Aka, Shiro, and Kuro, but he changed them to Blue, Red, White, and Black, which, for me, totally changed the feel of the review and made me realize that Phillip Gabriel might translate the book that way. I’ll be interesting to see if he does so.
(Graphic courtesy of Ian Lynam and Neojaponisme.)