Friday, July 20, 2012

A Wild Sheep Chase

A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami
English translation by Alfred Birnbaum
Published in 1989.
Published by Kodansha International Ltd.
ISBN (Vintage International Edition): 0-375-71894-X

Our nameless protagonist works at an advertising agency in Tokyo. His wife has just left him, and now he is dating a young woman with stunningly perfect ears. One day he designs an ad campaign that utilizes a seemingly innocent picture of some sheep at a ranch in Hokkaido. He had received this picture from an estranged friend of his, called the Rat. This picture sets the book's main plot in motion.

Things get very, very weird.

A Wild Sheep Chase is my second Murakami, after Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (which he wrote later). I didn't realize it at the time, but AWSC is the final entry in a trilogy  of which the first two volumes never became well-known outside of Japan. Reading Wikipedia I feel Murakami enthusiasts consider AWSC a bridge between Murakami's early work and his later, more well-known period.

As the plot of AWSC is entirely self-contained, you can read it without ever bothering with the rest of what is apparently known as the Trilogy of the Rat. (The fact that it was written as Part 3 of 3 might explain some narrative oddities, like the subplot involving the dead girl that is dropped early on and never mentioned again.) All one needs to know is that there's an entire history out there involving the protagonist, the Rat, and the bartender J, and everything else becomes clear in the novel.

Or not so clear, as the case may be. AWSC contains some fine Murakami surrealism, and it's often not entirely clear what is happening. At least I'm sure the plot will appear simple and straightforward if I just type it out in simple sentences:

Hero works for ad agency in Tokyo. One day the representative of a reclusive right-wing political figure comes to the office. The photo of some sheep grazing that the hero innocently inserted into an ad is of very grave concern to the shadowy organization that the mysterious man represents. Particularly that one sheep, with the star-shaped mark. The man commands our hero to leave his job, provides him with a large stipend, and tasks him to track down the sheep, else the hero's life will be made HORRIBLY DIFFICULT. All the hero has to go on is that his friend the Rat sent him the picture. Fortunately his magical-eared girlfriend is willing to come along to help.

There, that's marvelously straightforward, isn't it? And it continues to be thus as Murakami's hero progresses toward his goal: the sheep, in whatever form it may exist in.

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