“The thing is you’re looking for something two-dimensional and not quite real. It never lasts. But you can’t expect something unreal to last anyway, can you?” The ordinary, desultory, and nameless protagonist of Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase is not the character one immediately wants to identify with. At times incorrigible, mostly helpless, and constantly at a loss for understanding his farrago of a life, Murakami throws our “hero” out of his mundane Tokyo life and into a phantasmagoric raft of characters, situations, and – sheep.
Accompanied by his newfound girlfriend (endowed with supernatural ears), the hapless lead meets with a nefarious rightwing organization demanding that a certain oddly marked sheep be found – or else. More schlemiel than samurai, the two then embark across the country, finding a conspiracy worth of secrets that align the sheep’s history with Japan’s checkered past. With the protagonist’s anxieties with direction and certainty, his quest for the sheep slowly becomes even more problematic and less coincidental then thought, something destined – and all in a world seemingly meaningless.
Murakami’s work grapples with fate and knowing, plumbing depths that never seem to have a tangible bottom, yet can’t help but be explored with a child’s bungling wonder. This fiction’s lack of character names and cultureless settings provide a Kafkaesque backdrop for raising universal questions about the human condition, about what it means to know someone, and if our fantasies are more real than humdrum banality.
Murakami’s tone is fitting then. His writing only reifies enough to depict surreal conversations without the specificity of most novelist’s minutia. Unpretentious and lean, the prose suits a journey one part philosophical feint into the abyss, and two parts deadpan comedy. We find a narrative replete with nuggets of the uncanny and memories of the mundane that define living’s splendor and significance.
Entrancing and attention-grabbing, A Wild Sheep Chase retains its literary quality without implementing beguiling references or long-winded descriptions. In short, it does what the novel is meant to do - utilizing the vehicle of story to foist insoluble riddles, only to toy around with the answers. Wacky and hard-boiled, comedic yet forlorn, A Wild Sheep Chase tries to mystify the demystified and concoct meaning in contradictions of the determined and happenstance. We discover a wonder embedded in Murakami’s mediocrity, but a wonder that only arrives after we count sheep and fall into a deep slumber traced by dreams.
Podcast Produced by Phillip Griffin