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.

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 362 pages.
Read from December 29, 2019 to December 30, 2019.

Dammit, dammit, dammit. I have read this series out of order. I thought this was number three in The Rat series but it turns out it’s the fourth. While I wasn’t a big fan of Pinball or Hear The Wind Sing I like to read everything that Murakami has to offer and this book was an improvement on the previous two. Apparently, the third book of the four is actually A Wild Sheep Chase which I’m still on the waiting list for at the library.

The unnamed protagonist of this story, after waking from a dream, suddenly feels beckoned to return to the seedy Dolphin Hotel where he once stayed with a woman he cared about in his past, a call-girl named Kiki.  His writing gig allows him a lot of flexibility so he decides he is going to book in for a few nights. He discovers that the hotel itself has been demolished and a new one has been built on top of it yet it still retains the same name. While at the hotel he tries to enquire about the previous owner but the staff all try to avoid his questions. He has dreams about a sheep man and Kiki being murdered by one of his old classmates that has become a famous actor. Along the way, the protagonist gets friendly with one of the hotel staff members in which she speaks of getting trapped in the darkness after coming out of the elevator on floor seventeen and be terrified after coming in contact with a presence there. The protagonist also helps out a teen girl who gets left behind at the hotel by her whose absent mother, a famous artist who gets wrapped up in her work. The interlinking of all of these lives and strange occurrences all lead back to the Sheep Man, presumably the figure on floor seventeen of the Dolphin Hotel.

How much of this story was in the mind of the protagonist? How much of it was actually real for him? These are answers that are left for the reader to determine. The book seems to focus on the protagonists’ issues in connecting with people and of course with those that he has lost as a result of it.  Like most Murakami books, nothing ends or is wrapped up nicely for you. Again though, I think that is one of the strange major appeals for me with Murakami. Did I fully grasp the story and what and why everything happened? Nope. But I still enjoyed the journey.  There was a serious lack of cats in this story, which, was disappointing. There are just somethings you come to expect when you read Murakami! Cats are one of them.

While I suppose it’s not essential to read this series in order, the characters do repeat and somewhat develop even if the storyline seems confusing. If you’re a first time Murakami reader, I would not start with this book or this series for that matter.  Stick with the Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

 

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 227 pages.
Read from December 13, 2019 to December 17, 2019.

You know when you feel like you’ve run out of books to read despite having many on your shelf in Kobo? When you’re just uninspired by the selection of books you currently have available to you? Talk about book nerd problems, hey? Thank goodness for libraries. I was on a trip with the family before Christmas and wasn’t impressed with what I had available to me on my Kobo. I had just finished A Chorus of Mushrooms and was in the mood for something by Murakami and my library delivered.

Sputnik Sweetheart is a story about unrequited love, loneliness, and friendship. K is in love with his college friend, Sumire. Sumire is a quirky, creative, dedicated, scattered and an ambitious writer who has never shown any interest in K outside of friendship. In fact, she often bemoans feeling asexual and having never understood the point to sex having never ever felt aroused.  The two of them are close however and call on each other often, even in the late hours of the evening. They have an understanding and trust that makes their bond close. Sumire has given herself a set amount of time to create and become the writer that she wants to be but is struggling. During this time she meets an older woman named Miu. Miu is polished, beautiful, and well put-together and Sumire is instantly drawn to her. When Miu offers her a part-time job Sumire accepts it. Sumire quickly comes to understand what it means to sexually desire someone with Miu. Sumire starts to dress nicer and keep a better routine as well as accompany Miu on her business trips. Sumire keeps in touch with K and is honest with him about how he feels for Miu, though nothing has ever happened between them, yet.  When Sumire accompanies Miu to Greece and suddenly goes missing, K is the first person that Miu contacts to help find their missing friend.

This book is consistent with Murakami’s meditative style with a slight detective twist. I really loved and admired Sumire’s character and felt that she was different than the majority of the other female characters that Murakami portrays. For the first time, the woman in the story was not fully sexually active with the main male character and was definitely more dynamically portrayed. While K was technically the main narrator the book was really more about Sumire and her ambitions and desires and I loved that, would love to see more of that in Murakami’s works, actually. While I find the ending a bit puzzling it is still none the less beautiful and consistent with what I love about Murakami and his writing style.