A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

You finally get the back story on the elusive Sheepman.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 300 pages.
Read from April 20, 2020 to May 5 2020.

You finally get the back story on the elusive Sheepman in this book. Despite being a major focal point throughout the whole Rat series, little was known about him and he made few appearances through the series. The Sheepman even turns up in a book outside of the series in another one of Murakami’s works outside of this series but was published around the same time, The Strange Library, in a connection I have yet to determine.

If you’ve not read Murakami or a book in this series before you may be wondering how the heck a Sheepman fits into any story, even an absurdist reality as this one, well, it does. Strange, yes but that’s what Murakami does best.

Here’s an image of the Sheepman directly from the 1989 version of A Wild Sheep Chase.

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Why a sheep? I honestly couldn’t say but the title of this book is quite literal as the main unnamed male protagonist is blackmailed by a strange man representing a company that threatens him with losing everything if he doesn’t go and find this sheep that is in a photograph he published with his advertising company. The image, which he received from the Rat, his friend that disappeared a few years back and is detailed in the two previous books in this series, Hear the Wind Sing (The Rat #1) and Pinball 1973 (The Rat #2), is somehow tied to all of of this. On his search, much to his surprise, the protagonist finds others along the way who are obsessed with the concept of this Sheepman as well.  In the midst of all of this, the main character is going through the process of a divorce with his wife and meets a call girl with a strange allure. By all appearances she is very average, that is until you get a glimpse of her irresistible ears. While the story of his girlfriend trails off in this novel, it resumes in the fourth and final instalment of his series Dance Dance DanceDoes the protagonist find this Sheepman? And what will happen when he does find him? What will it all mean for him in the end?

Superior to the first two novels of the series, this story was by far more interesting and captivating. I really didn’t care much for the first two books, if I’m honest, but this one reads well and lends itself well to the final instalment of the series as well. I’d say this book is my favourite of the four because as a reader, you’re more connected to the protagonist in this story and you start to see the full spectrum of the story with the Rat the protagonist and the coming of age story that it really becomes. This novel, in a way, is like a peculiar vision quest that the protagonist takes with all the people he meets along the way playing a part in its conclusion and shaping who he becomes.

The Rat series is not one I would recommend a newbie of Murakami to. The first two books are some of the first he ever published and I feel he really comes into his craft a little later. For Murakami lovers, however, I feel that this an essential series to read to really get a feel for Murakami’s writing style and progress. The protagonist feels familiar because many of the other books Murakami write have similar characteristics to the one in this series, whether that’s with age, being a divorcee, and other personality traits and similarities. I feel that this series was likely the first one to establish this character that we, as Murakami readers, have come to love.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength. ”

4/5 stars.
197ebook, 208 pages.
Read from January 24, 2020 to Janaury 29, 2020

I had never even heard of this book until a few years ago. It kept coming up in a few blogs in lists as one of those life-changing novels that you read in your youth. You know the ones, books like Harry Potter, The OutsidersThe GiverSpeak, Tuck Everlasting, and Where The Red Fern Grows. Perhaps this book was read more in the US than it was in Canada as it didn’t reach my repertoire as a kid. I wish, however, it had.

Bridge to Terabithia was originally published in 1977 and follows the story of Jess Aarons. Jess and his family don’t have much but he has been training all summer to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. What he doesn’t expect is that a new kid, a girl named Leslie, while absolutely whoop him and all the other fifth graders on day one. While Jess was initially annoyed at losing, especially after he trained to so hard, he comes to form a formidable bond with this fearless new girl who has come from the city. The two of them create a magical place called Terabithia at tree past a stream behind Jess’ house. It’s a magical place that the two of them rule over in which they can dream and imagine. The two, despite coming from very different homes become inseparable. However, a tragedy occurs that changes Jess and their story forever.

“Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.”

I’ve read reviews of people who have never forgotten how this book made them feel when they read it as a kid and their utter devastation at the loss of one of the characters, however, I still didn’t expect the outcome and was shook when I came to the tragic point in the story. I can see now how devastating a story like this would have been for a kid reading this for the first time as even I was taken back. The story manages to breach the topic of death, loss, and grief in a way that is tangible for a young mind. Unless tragedy touched you in your own youth, chances are you never gave a second thought to death even if you watched or read about it in other mediums. There is something special about this book with the way that death is approached and how the characters cope afterwards that really drives the point home. I could see this book being helpful for a youth dealing with tragedy themselves as it depicts well someone with minimal understanding or experience of death might cope or approach a tragedy. The story encourages deep compassion for people of different circumstances that may not seem to need it at first.

The writing is inviting and the characters enjoyable and relatable, another reason this book is so timeless. We’re looking at 40+ years on and this book is still being read and discussed and that is because death and grief are universal. Despite this, we’re poor at dealing with death as a society and it’s novels like this one provide a useful way for youth to broach and deal with the topic. I would highly recommend this novel if you’ve not read it before or are looking for a middle-grade appropriate read that discusses, love, friendship, death, and grieving.

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

“Newfoundland where it is perpetually almost summer until it is almost winter again.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 539 pages.
Read from February 28, 2020 to March 18, 2020

I’ve been a bad reader lately and have found myself behind on my books. I’ve finally finished what is number four out of five of the Canada Reads 2020 finalists. The debates themselves have been postponed so I have some time to catch up at least. Alayna Fender will be defending this novel when the debates resume.

Following a first-person narrative rotation of Newfoundland locals, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club highlights what it’s like to work and live within the small province. Needless to say, it doesn’t paint a happy picture. All the characters know each other and the quick-paced narrative jumps from one character to another while depicting intimate scenes from all their unique perspectives. To highlight a few of the characters: Iris, a self-sabotaging waitress, loves John but he is married. John works with Iris and thinks only of himself and won’t end their affair despite the pending consequences and damage its causing Iris. Georgina is married to John, she was looking for something completely different after the heartbreak of her last partner. Olive is Iris’ roommate who is barely holding on after experiencing severe sexual trauma. Damien, who also works with Iris and John, is suffering from a broken heart after Tom left him and can’t stop drinking and doing drugs. Each character is bound with these similarities, that they grew up in poverty in a small and socially confined bay of Newfoundland.

“No one says it is okay to feel hurt. No one says anything. Everyone just goes on living. We all go on living until we lose more of each other. And then we are made lesser.”

I have to say, I think the current atmosphere has affected my feelings on this novel. The characters are great and so is the writing but it isn’t what you’d call a happy story. In fact, it’s very dreary and the world feels a bit too dreary right now due to the Covid-19 virus.  I’m sure that this has played a factor into me not rating this novel higher as I did really appreciate the writing style and concept. This book also isn’t for everyone. The characters ooze with inescapable sadness and desperation. There are also many triggers for those that have suffered from sexual assault within the book. While it’s brought about tastefully and while highlighting the culture that perpetuates it, the content is still graphic. Interestingly, the author highlights both sides of the one major assault that takes place in the novel.

What I liked the most about this novel was how nicely it laid out some of the aspects of rape culture and the thought process behind it. The inner worthlessness and lack of control felt by the female characters and the confusion of the male characters who in the patriarchial workings of entitlement, poverty, and suffering in a small town were never taught to understand or empathise. What’s more, is that I could relate to some of the inner conversations that some of the female characters had with themselves with the endless people-pleasing and being trapped in that cycle of never feeling good enough constantly weighing them down.

I do wish I had read this book at a different time but who is to say that my rating of the book would change. Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? Perhaps. It gives a voice to those that struggle to live out in the beautiful East coast. It’s not easy to make a living out there. The book also discusses rape culture, drug and alcohol abuse, and the treatment of people who are of mixed ethnicities, all of which are prevalent issues facing Canadians. We will have to see how this one stands up in the debates.