Haruki Murakami, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage” – review

It was about halfway through reading Murakami’s thirteenth novel that I realised quite why I love his books so much.

I’m a Feedly addict. I use it like twitter. I’m probably following about 400 different sources, from ‘Weird News from Huffington Post’ with its stories about images of Jesus appearing inside melted USB plugs, to the official Fabian society blog and its complaints about the superficiality of the ‘One Nation’ message. Severe weather and natural disasters, photography, archaeology, politics, football tactics, psychology – my Feedly feed is a real morass of seemingly unconnected stuff. I dip in and out several times a day, just scrolling through each story précis until I see something worth reading.

That’s what a Murakami novel feels like.

If I’ve met you, chances are that I’ve recommended Murakami to you. I find that most of the people who do read him then don’t like him, and that elicits two responses from me. Firstly, I ask silently why isn’t there a real life Unfollow button; but secondly, I ask out loud why they don’t like probably the world’s best living novelist, as the Observer dubs him. And the response is often the same, “because his books never go anywhere”. To paraphrase Bart Simpson, they’re just a bunch of stuff that happens. A morass of seemingly unconnected stuff.

What is true is that, in “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki…”, the plot darts about all over the place like a puppy chasing butterflies in the garden. It was during a short discussion between three characters on how having six fingers is a dominant genetic trait that I had my Feedly eureka moment. There are lots of discussions that appear incidental to the plot, or bits of backstory that fill out Tsukuru’s world; side dishes, accompanying a main course that would otherwise appear meagre in size, although tantalising to taste. Frederick Forsyth’s best books do it, Douglas Adams did it, and it’s no surprise that they also appear in my top five favourite authors list.

But, the puppy isn’t darting around the garden just for the exercise. There’s purpose to his play, just as there’s purpose to Murakami’s meanderings. And after all, this is a mystery novel, of sorts. There’s a crime, a murder, and a victim. There’s also the aftermath – the years of pilgrimage from the title (in one sense).

The text is poetic, in that every word is considered and used judiciously, with no waste. Every word is required, and it’s the right word to use at that time, and the cumulative effect is by turn beautiful, moving, funny and beguiling. It contains all the hallmarks of a Murakami book. Music plays a huge part, and the obligatory interest in sex is present. There’s a meditation on memory and nostalgia, and the effect that love and music play on both. The main character is an utterly ordinary chap, as many of Murakami’s heroes are. Just an everyday bloke to whom surreal things happen, whilst he just tries to get on with his life.

If I was to level a criticism, it’s that I wanted a resolution. I wanted to know what happens to our titular hero, and how his life plays out in the immediate three days after the book ends. But, I realised quickly, that’s missing the point of the book. Tsukuru grows, moves on, by experiencing the events of his pilgrimage, just as a piece of music can only be experienced by listening to the whole thing. The beauty, the growth, the sense of fulfilment lies in trials of the journey, not in reaching the destination. To want to know what happens after the book finishes is therefore to deny the properties of the journey, just as to complain that Murakami’s books have no plot is to deny the incredible journey from the first page to the last.

In what way would you like to disagree with me?

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