Thursday, April 7, 2016

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami (2014) (Trans. Philip Gabriel) (JK)

Oeuvre rule: as previously mentioned in my review of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (WITAWITAR), Murakami is the author of the only book I have read in the past 8 years that did not result in a review on Flying Houses.  Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is an interesting book and I would recommend it, but among the three Murakami books I have read, it would be on the bottom.  WITAWITAR would be at the top and this would be in the middle.

The incomparable Dr. Emily Dufton has graciously reviewed both IQ84 and this book for Flying Houses and now I will offer my first fiction review of this redoubtable literary giant.  Most of my comments will be repetitive of Emily's, and she has certainly read much more of his oeuvre than I have, so her review is more authoritative as a seasoned reader of his.  I hope that my review will be useful for relative Murakami newbies.

The first thing that struck me about Tsukuru is its relative lack of fantasy sequences.  Maybe Hard-Boiled Wonderland was a bad example, but I feel like most of his other works are similarly fantasy-driven.  This is actually a very realistic novel.  The main character is 36, and it takes place in present day, and I feel that its reflective of our times and remarkably perceptive about all the different forms of passive aggression.

The main thrust of the story is that Tsukuru has been abandoned by his four closest friends at age 20, and 16 years later, he goes back to investigate why they suddenly decided to cease contact.  It ends up being a relatively simple explanation--and while I am not going to spoil it here (unlike The Art of Fielding - let spoilers be reserved for disappointing endings)--the explanation does sort of reference the only quasi-fantasy sequences in this book, which are erotic dreams.  I do want to say that I think that element is beautifully evoked in Tsukuru.

I was with a friend at the library and he wanted to pick something out to read on his spring break, and they didn't have the Tolstoy he wanted.  I perused the aisles with him and thought to see if they had any Murakami.  I found this available and told him to take it out.  He read it in like a day or two.  It's 380 pages or so but the pages are small.  He said I should read it, so after finishing M Train I picked this up.  It was good for us to read the same thing and to be able to talk about it.  For example, I asked him, "Does Haida come back?"  He said, "Do you want me to spoil it for you?" I said, "No."  And now I know what happens and I have to say that matters being left sort of unresolved at the ending (I don't think it's spoiling anything to reveal that) made the book feel less satisfying to me.  Murakami did not want to write a standard happy ending.  This is a really quirky little book, and kind of delightful at times for its simplicity and directness.  It is a pleasure to read the language, which is to the credit of Philip Gabriel.

I could quote any number of passages, but inevitably I must include something from the sequence with Haida...But first I came across one hilarious aspect of the sequence with Ao:

"As Tsukuru was wondering how to respond, 'Viva Las Vegas!' blared out on Ao's cell phone again.  He checked the caller's name and stuffed the phone back in his pocket.
'I'm sorry, but I really need to get back to the office, back to hustling cars.  Would you mind walking with me to the dealership?
They walked down the street, side by side, not speaking for a while.  Tsukuru was the first to break the silence, 'Tell me, why "Viva Las Vegas!" as your ringtone?'
Ao chuckled.  'Have you seen that movie?'
'A long time ago, on late-night TV.  I didn't watch the whole thing.'
'Kind of a silly movie, wasn't it?'
Tsukuru gave a neutral smile.
'Three years ago I was invited, as the top salesmen in Japan, to attend a conference in Las Vegas for U.S. Lexus dealers.  More of a reward for my performance than a real conference.  After meetings in the morning, it was gambling and drinking the rest of the day.  '"Viva Las Vegas!" was like the city's theme song--you heard it everywhere you went.  When I hit it big at roulette, too, it was playing in the background.  Since then that song's been my lucky charm." (182)

Murakami translated Raymond Carver into Japanese, and spent time with him in the late 80's.  At times I feel as if he is mimicking Carver in the starkness of the language and the generally sad story.  This is not an unwelcome development.  Anyways, in the Haida sequence, I thought things were just going to be so innocent, so when it became the raunchiest part of the book, I was sort of relieved:

"Now, though, he wasn't coming inside Shiro, but in Haida.  The girls had suddenly disappeared, and Haida had taken their place.  Just as Tsukuru came, Haida had quickly bent over, taken Tsukuru's penis in his mouth, and--careful not to get the sheets dirty--taken all the gushing semen inside his mouth.  Tsukuru came violently, the semen copious.  Haida patiently accepted all of it, and when Tsukuru had finished, Haida licked his penis clean with his tongue.  He seemed used to it.  At least it felt that way.  Haida quietly rose from the bed and went to the bathroom.  Tsukuru heard water running from the faucet.  Haida was probably rinsing his mouth." (127)

Okay, I'm sorry, that was probably the dirtiest thing I have ever posted on this blog, so I'm sorry if it offended you.  It's just that something about this book just seems a little prudish, and then it kind of breaks into this hugely graphic scene.  It's a nice contrast.

I really don't know what else to say about this book.  Dr. Dufton noted that Murakami seems to be getting repetitive with age, but this was still a very good book.  And I agree, while professing ignorance on the former topic.  I do want to say that I think there are a few loose ends that remain untied.  Of course, there is the obvious big uncertainty at the end with Sara, but on the whole I think the whole ending sequence is very beautiful, if a bit strange with all the phones ringing and not getting picked up.  There's a definite atmosphere to the ending, as well as with Tsukuru's lonely pastime of watching from a bench as the trains arrive and depart at stations in Helsinki and Tokyo.  I don't understand what Haida's story about his father (or is it made up?) means, or the significance of Haida as a character in relation to Shiro.  There is this great passage though, involving Tsukuru's first girlfriend at age 21, shortly after Haida leaves their college:

"She wasn't good at cooking, but enjoyed cleaning, and before long she had his apartment sparkling clean.  She replaced his curtains, sheets, pillowcases, towels, and bath mats with brand-new ones.  She brought color and vitality into Tsukuru's post-Haida life.  But he didn't choose to sleep with her out of passion, or because he was fond of her, or even to lessen his loneliness.  Though he probably would never have admitted it, he was hoping to prove to himself that he wasn't gay, that he was capable of having sex with a real woman, not just in his dreams.  This was his main objective." (142-143)

It's a good story, and though it seems a few things remain unsettled, it seems like this narrative gets wrapped up a bit more tidily than most of Murakami's other novels.  Dr. Dufton could correct me if I am wrong.  Like her, I am glad I read it.  Unlike her, I look forward to experiencing the rest of Murakami's oeuvre for the first time.

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