on 4 February 2007
Written in 1982, this is the earliest Murakami novel widely available to the English-speaking world, though it isn't Murakami's first novel (he wrote two before this one).
Attempting to find the meaning in this bizaare and surreal detective story will probably always be fruitless, but trying to work it out while reading is so much fun. Reading it again is just as good, as you think that perhaps this time you are ready, this time you will understand what it all means - but you never are ready and you never do understand.
It is worth noting that despite its jaunty and carefree tone, the book is full of death and images of death, which lend it something of a brooding darkeness. It is also worth noting that here is a very early example of Murakami's frequently repeated 'mysterious woman who goes unexplainably missing' trick.
In 1988 Murakami produced a sequel, Dance Dance Dance but, despite being quite frightening and easy to read, it is inferior to Wild Sheep Chase and doesn't stand up to repeated readings.
on 3 June 2008
If there is one criticism that can be made of Murakami's wild, fascinating and intensely thoughtful novels, it is that the humanity of his characters can occasionally be lost in the wistful poetry of his writing. This is not the case of The Wild Sheep Chase: the book's poignant, terrifically tender ending moves the reader not, as is usual with Murakami, with sympathy for a universal failing, but instead with a unique, very human, sense of loss.
This is a witty and wonderful book, with the power to transform the reader's view of the world. While this is often the case with Murakami's novels, this book has a peculiarly prosaic setting, which slowly gives way to the bizarre universe just outside one's doorstep. I would recommend it especially for those new to Murakami's twisted galaxy of writing, but also to those fans who already find they prefer Murakami's fantastical Japan to their personal reality.
on 18 March 2002
I can describe this simply - it's Raymond Carver's sense of human smallness and dignity coupled with Raymond Chandler's sense of pulp, but with a sort of Marx-Brothers/Manga thrown in. The girl with beautiful ears is perhaps Murakami's best kooky-girl and the plot rattles along. It's weird as hell, but firmly anchored to the real world too. Rather like "The Wind-up Bird Chronicles" there's a sense of opaqueness to it, a sense that you are not glimpsing everything that is to be found on first read. But it reads just as well second time.
There's nobody to touch Murakami, and this is a particularly good Murakami book. Maybe my favourite, though Wind-Up Bird is his most accomplished work.
This review is written by a Murakami `virgin' and one who was unaware until the end that the novel is the final part of the `Trilogy of the Rat' following `Hear the Wind Sing' and `Pinball'. Having said that, nowhere in the 2003 Vintage edition of the book is this made clear.
A young advertising executive, recently divorced, receives a mysterious postcard of a flock of sheep from an estranged friend, called Rat, and uses it as an image for a corporate newsletter for an insurance company. However, the picture includes a mutant sheep with a star on its back that is being sought by `Boss', a war criminal and shadowy right-wing powerbroker who, through blackmail, has gained effective control of Japanese media and advertising agencies. Murakami writes ''To hold down advertising is to have nearly the entire publishing and broadcasting industries under your thumb. There's not a branch of publishing or broadcasting that doesn't depend in some way on advertising. It'd be like an aquarium without water. Why, 95 percent of the information that reaches you has already been preselected and paid for". `Boss' has reached a position where he controls the country's politicians, information services and its stock market, but he is now dying.
Through his menacing deputy, `Boss' gives the narrator the choice of finding the sheep or having his business, and probably himself, destroyed. He resigns from his job and with nothing to lose he sets out to find the sheep. The result is the backdrop shifting from Tokyo to the mountainous and relatively unpopulated north of the country.
Our hero is accompanied by a girl whose ears create a frenzy of arousal to which he readily gives in, and who possesses a supernatural ability to `tune in' her ears to modify their effect. Other characters include a highly-educated Christian chauffeur, an aged cat, a bar-owner called J, a Sheep Professor and his hotel-owning son, and a veryshortmanwhowearsasheepskinandspeakslikethis for reasons that I did not understand. A picture of this individual is drawn in the book to ram home his non-human nature. We also learn about the narrator's wife and something about the Rat through his musings. I now see that, with the earlier books read, much more about these characters would be known.
The right-winger was unexceptional until he was `possessed' by the sheep and his character changed. Later we meet the Sheep Professor who was a highly regarded scientist destined for a high ministry position, as a result of the sheep's control, until the sheep left him and he became an embittered old man, living in a single room, surrounded by his sheep archive. The sheep (an over-riding passion) is, therefore, destructive when possessing us but also when it abandons us.
Allthis seems strange and surreal but, because of the vividness of Murakami's writing, it all seems reasonable whilst one is reading along. The narrator is a disillusioned by modern life in Japan and does just enough at the advertising agency to be able to purchase his necessary cigarettes and booze. He has no aim in life, life many of his generation.
None of the characters are named and, at the beginning, I found this rather frustrating. However, there is a conversation between the narrator, his girlfriend and the chauffeur where the former explains why names, of individuals, objects and places, are superfluous. Of course once a specific person or a thing is named, its generality is constrained so I was ready to play the author's game in this respect. Certainly, Murakami's knowledge of Western (or, more accurately, American) music, films and novels is extensive and there are few references, other than food, to place the novel in Japan. For readers with an interest in the history of Japanese sheep-rearing, admittedly these will be rather few, there are some fascinating facts presented.
The unsung hero of this novel is its translator, Alfred Birnbaum, who manages to disentangle the knots of the original Japanese. The author is concerned to warn younger generations against the mistakes that their predecessors made in not questioning their Emperor, and military and political leaders, and later their business and academic superiors. However, apart from this warning I was unable to find any more positive suggestions.
I have read that Murakami frightens prospective readers almost as much as Proust. There are many fascinating insights in this book - and it is much shorter than Proust. A Murakami virgin no more, I will now read the earlier parts of the trilogy and then this book again. Perhaps this might be an approach for others.
on 18 November 2009
Murakami on his more surreal form. If his books are written along the lines of a freestyle jazz piece, than A Wild Sheep Solo would be the xylophone solo. Purposeful and structured but an oddity all the same.
The book is based around a central character looking for a sheep, that had taken possession of the head of a powerful political organization but was now lost, and without it he will be unable to survive. The search takes him away from his job, his home, his girlfriend and into the depths of the Japanese Mountains.
We are back on Murakami's central motif here - characters lost or at a junction, in a world that they cannot understand, a world that is human but not at the same time. Here though the main character is anonymous - with no name and no real existence. In fact his only real trait is that he is as ordinary as he can possibly be. He is only given meaning by others - by the search for the sheep, the letter from The Rat (his previous acquaintance) taking him on journeys he would otherwise not have made.
To me this is all about the transience of self. Here we have a person who has built up a life, a wife, a business, but who is then transformed quite arbitrarily into a completely different world and existence, where sheep possess humans and women have incredibly attractive ears. Indeed it is the ears that start the whole plot off - an idea of new sensory perception perhaps? Could this happen to any of us?
From here it is the quest for the sheep that dominates, and a journey into old Japan, a Japan that is being lost in the new world, where the old towns and settlements are simply disappearing off the map. In fact times seems to be passing in a similar way, to the sense of nihilism that dominates the book. In this world it is something as arbitrary to a sheep that can change an individual. What else?
The only God is that of the sheep, it is the permanent soul of a transcendental world, looking for somewhere else to lie but finding nowhere. As such it sits dormant back amongst nature, on a mountain with his flock. With the soul removed we no longer dream, we are happy just to be ordinary. All ideals are false - men in sheep outfits.
The book is a homage to the hard boiled novel of Chandler and Hammett - individuals removed of hope and morality in a post-depression, mid-war world, on a search for criminals not for redemption, but just because this is what they do. Things will happen and there is nothing they can do about, it is only the relentless pursuits of time that is a constant. When this stops, existence does not continue.
In this respect is A Wild Sheep Chase a post-modern novel - trying to find new meaning in a world of where nothing is new and different - or is it all a bit frivolous and eventually meaningless. Or are those exactly the same things in the first place? Whatever it is there is definitely something new about it and for me that gives it a value, even it all turns about to be as meaningless as a sheep lying in a field, waiting for something to happen.
on 25 March 2004
What can I say about this writer! I discovered Murakami in January this year through Norwegian Wood, which I found very engrossing and different mainly because of his style of writing and characters. Since then I have hunted down and bought every book written by the author. The stories and the characters captivate you, you are made to feel as if YOU are the character and you are actually going through the journey which follows. As a previous reader said, it is hard to describe Murakami's work to someone who has not read one of his works. You can only experience how good this guy is when you read it yourself. To sum up Murakami is one of those authors whose books should be read by anyone who has an interest in reading quality!!!
This is a wonderful tale, with all the Murakami touch points; cats, ears, music, and a touch of the supernatural. The main character is a very likeable young man working in advertising and the strange events which lead to his pursuit of a specific sheep to be found somewhere in Japan, is believable and captivating.
His relationship with his unusual girlfriend is touching though a little strange and his encounters with some very odd people indeed are so strongly written I found I was seeing it all in my minds eye
One of Murakami's earlier books - and definitely one of his very best
on 18 March 2014
In my personal experience, Haruki Murakami is one of those rare writers who find it disturbingly easy to leave a heavy impression on (or better phrased, in) you. Although an enjoyable tale, "A Wild Sheep Chase" doesn't quite live up to that.
This novel is best viewed as a series of separate scenes, rather than a whole. From the protagonist dinning with the girl whose ears he finds himself obsessing over, their cigarette smoke filling the dinner, watching in awe as she slowly removes her hat - to the first time he meets the sheep man - Murakami demonstrates his greatest skill; his ability to make each scene equally significant and almost unforgettable for the reader, no matter how insignificant the scene serves in the grand scheme of things.
And that is sadly where the tale falls short - "the grand scheme of things". The story, and the character within it, never really amount to anything amazing, unlike so many of his novels. This is best reflected in the novel's ending. Despite being famous for his dislike of conventionally defined ending (or perhaps, because of it), Murakami's finales are often wrecking-balls to the readers emotions (I find it hard to take seriously any man or woman who found themselves underwhelmed by the final chapter of "Norwegian Wood"), yet here that is certainly not the case. Where most his "endings" follow a crescendo of a emotions, "A Wild Sheep Chase" merely fizzles out.
In short, "A Wild Sheep Chase" is an enjoyable series of magical-realist scenes. Read if you can appreciate the journey, even when its destination is far less than thrilling.
on 20 November 2015
One of Murakami's earliy novels that sets the style for all the rest. Read it over 2 days on holiday and I bought into the concept immediately. As with all of Murakami's writing, it is the simplicity of the writing, the straightforward narrative of events far from straightforward, that are the hallmarks. I highly recommend this novel.
on 27 February 2015
Being a Murakami fan, I like especially his long books where an ordinary situation slowly changes into an impossibly unreal and magical knot. Only he does not always have the patience to follow the thing trhrough. But the combination of ordinariness and fantasy is great. In this case there are some strange persons who could perhaps have been left out of the story but still everything is readable, sometimes horrible but still not unbearable.