A Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami

 Translated by Alfred Birnbaum, Published by Plume, 1990

In his third book of ‘The Trilogy of the Rat’, Murakami writes a giddily enigmatic spin of genres in buoyant, slangy, pomo pastiche, creating what critics call a ‘Pan-pacific novel’, more comfortable in the Irving and Pynchon gang than any more traditional Japanese literature, contemporary or otherwise. Although set in urbane Tokyo and pastoral Hokkaido, some of the scenes, especially those in the earlier stages of the book, could be transplanted right into east coast grad-life, and you’d hardly tell the difference.

With a smart-casual prose outfit and an imagination of pure diamond, the author rolls us calmly into a mindboggling and improbable series of events, set in motion with the event of a shady right-wing capitalist business representative  turning up in the foyer of the kind of agency Mad Men eats for breakfast. The main cast: a ‘boring’ yuppie whose memory floats on the aching farce of a whale penis in a museum from his youth, a girl with sublimely ears of intensely erotic appeal, the Rat- a decent kind of guy if a bit hermetic, a really genial limousine driver, a cat christened Kipper (a cameo), and sheep. A sheep, to be more precise.

The book is gleamingly off-kilter, almost sublime in parts, and the general critic’s opinion that it’s a book for the cosmopolitan, linguistically restless, globally-intuiting new generation is possibly one that’s more than moot. Weaving your way like an eel through an aquatic maze of uncertain design, you get the sense the whole thing is as much digressing as driving towards something. Or that the two are, in the end, much the muchness. In other words- the substance and the aside cannot be so easily separated.

End Note:

Murakami, or his protagonist, seems obsessed with the varying qualities of silence. Oppressive silences. Discerning silences. Silences like a slyly cocked ear. The peaceful, languid kind of silence, the kind in which no sense of waiting fibrillates, or anxiety pours its acid. At first references to all these kinds of absences kind of bemuses; then they form a rhythm- the gaps between the swelling and contracting of the novel’s life- and you dig it, in the contemplative way.


She was twenty-one, with an attractive slender body and a pair of the most bewitching, perfectly formed ears. She was a part-time proofreader for a small publishing house, a commercial model specializing in ear shots, and a call girl in a discreet intimate-friends-only club. Which of the three she considered her main occupation, I had no idea. Neither did she. (27)

As with most habitual drinkers, he was a nice-enough regular-if-not-exactly-sharp kind of guy when sober. Everyone thought of him as a  a nice-enough regular-if-not-exactly-sharp kind of guy. He thought so too. That’s why he drank. Because it seemed that with alcohol in his system, he could more fully embody this idea of being that kind of guy. (45)

His long fingers suggested nothing so much as a troop of animals that had retained deep primal memories despite long years of training and control. His fingernails were meticulously manicured, a clean, perfect arc at the end of each fingertip. Truly beautiful hands, if somehow unsettling. They bespoke a high degree of specialization in some rarefied field- but what that field might be was anyone’s guess. (52)

It struck me as wanting that someone should confirm his own existence only by the hands of an electric wall clock. There had to be a more cognitive means of confirmation. But try as I might, nothing less facile came to mind. (58)

Before I knew it, the limo was in motion, like a washtub gliding over a sea of mercury. The sum of money sunk into this baby must have been staggering. (65).

The black-suited secretary took his chair and looked at me without saying a word. He didn’t seem to be sizing me up, nor did his eyes betray any disdain, nor was his a pointed stare to bore right through me. Neither cool nor hot, not even in the mid-range. That gaze held no hint of any emotion known to me. he might have been looking at the wall behind me, but as I was situated in front of it, the end result was that the man was looking at me.” (105)

More precisely, our organization can be divided into two elements. The part that moves ahead and the part that drives it ahead….the part at the forefront is the Will, and the part that backs up the forefront is the Gains. When people talk about the Boss, they make an issue only out of his Gains. (119)

I balanced the lighter in my hand. It had an excellent feel to it. Not too heavy, not too light. To think that there was such perfect heft in the world. [I spent about 15 minutes looking for this one]. (121)

An odd house the more I looked at it. It wasn’t particularly inhospitable or cold, nor built in any unusual way, nor even much in disrepair. It was just…odd. As if a great creature had grown old without being able to express its feelings. Not that ti didn’t know how to express them, it just didn’t know what to express. (236).


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