The lovely Dolce Bellezza invited us to read this newly released title with her and report back this weekend, and despite my sporadic blogging of late, I could not resist. The only Murakami I had read previous to this was his nonfiction work on running. I enjoyed its quiet and reflective prose, and I have been reading our hostess's adoring words about his work for years. It seemed the time to take on Murakami's fiction.
Behind the schedule as usual, I read the entire book yesterday. The first third of the work completely absorbed me in the story of the protagonist who was part of an unusually close group of five throughout his high school years only to be summarily rejected by them at the age of 20 with no reason offered. This rejection left the protagonist bereft and contemplating suicide but then he is metaphorically reborn into a new version of himself that oddly bears remarkable resemblance to his self prior to this rift. The passivity, the lack of self-awareness of the title character puzzled and intrigued me, and my expectation was that exploring the root causes of his reactions to this rejection would be deeply engaging. I was a bit off the mark in that regard.
What followed after that promising first part of the novel had all the subtlety of the adolescent period of Tsukuru's life that is the origin of his self-image as "colorless." Sixteen years after the unexplained rejection by his friends, he is alone and incapable of either even trying to decipher the reasons his friends shunned him or to engage fully in his adult life. The colorless theme is so oft repeated that I began to shift about in irritation each time it appeared. Yes. I get it. A simple device. And unless it begins to reveal more than that surface level of meaning, I don't wish to see it again. And then there is the constant repetition of reference to Lizt's "Le mal du pays." A refrain. Music that plays throughout the novel. The supplier of the 'Years of Pilgrimage" portion of the novel's title. That makes a convenient appearance whenever new characters need to be linked to the core themes and plot of the novel.
I looked forward to a dive into the famed Murakami embrace of parallel realities but found that in this instance those alternate realities extended principally to sexual fantasy or culpability in murder.
An adolescent view of women also surprised me a little here. A preoccupation with performance despite a decided lack of engagement in most things aside from railway stations, and sexual fantasies about his friends that betrayed slight self-awareness for a thirty six year old man suggest a static character whose obtuseness seems inescapable no matter what pilgrimage upon which he embarks. Even near the end, in a moment of reconciliation, he cannot help himself from commenting upon the fullness of his friend's breasts pressed into his chest. Twice. The woman as object, as dressable token, and the obsession with breasts are absolutely a mystery to me. Help me if I missed something?
The dialogue struck me as unnatural. I am still collecting all of the loose ends of the novel. Is there a purpose to the introduction of these various subplots that are never revisted? All of this might suggest that I really disliked the novel, but I did not. I was just befuddled by it. It struck me as a mess and I was not expecting that. But just like that friend one might have who is also a mess, my time with it was not poorly spent. It was an easy read with parts I enjoyed tremendously. It just had neither the stamina (another type of performance issue) nor the depth I had anticipated. Point me to a different Murakami? After waiting this long to read him, I can't let my relationship with his work end here.