A Wild Sheep Chase

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Boss Book Club!

 

Today marks the 5th and final day of the Five Day book review catch up. From here on in, book reviews will be posted weekly on a Sunday, as per the norm. We will be looking at Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase today.

 

I need to start off by saying that I read this book at the wrong time. This book is supposed to be the third part of a trilogy. Parts one and two are titled Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, Murukami’s first two novels, only released in English for the first time last year. I thoroughly recommend reading the first two to start with, and then reading a Wild Sheep Chase straight afterwards to get the complete experience. I read this after reading some of Murukami’s later works (such as The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore) and some months after reading the first two. It was therefore a bit difficult to get into the flow of this book, mainly because Murukami’s writing style has diversified and changed since these first three books so it felt like taking a step back into a different headspace, which was difficult.

 

Having said that, this book has done nothing to diminish my new found Murakami obsession, and this is another great story. In this story our protagonist, the same man from the first two novels, is working in his small advertising and publishing firm, he has a new girlfriend with strikingly beautiful ears, and is continuing about his life, doing not much in particular. He is then accosted by a mysterious man in a dark suit, and is given a month to find a sheep from a photograph with a star on its back, with dire consequences if he fails.

 

The story takes our man on a trip across Japan in search of the Sheep and his friend the Rat. J from the bar also gets a look in. This book marks the departure for Murakami from his completely realistic and naturalistic books in Wind and Pinball, to the slightly bizarre and absurd. This is the book that marks the shift in style for Murakami. If I had read this directly after the other two, then the all out bizarre surrealism of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle wouldn’t have been so shocking. Therefore, as I mentioned before, I think it’s important that you read his novels in order, and somewhat close together. You can then note the progression of the story, as well as Murukami’s journey as an author.

 

This book contains more humour than his other novels, and is cheeky and odd. I recommend saving the trilogy for a rainy day. Keep the coffee and cigarettes nearby, and cook yourself a nice meal afterwards (the protagonist always does a ton of cooking in each novel- it will make you want to eat something too!).

 

Thanks for joining us at The Boss Book Club and participating in the 5- day Blogging Catch Up Bonanza!

 

Regular blogging schedule resumes from next week so please join us next Sunday for a review of American Gods.

 

Happy Reading from The Boss Book Club!

The Wind- Up Bird Chronicle

Hello Everyone and welcome back to The Boss Book Club!

Today we will be looking at The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, the next book for review by Haruki Murakami. The book was initially published in three volumes in 1994 and 1995 in Japanese. The translation I read, printed by Vintage in 2003, also includes two chapters that were printed in 1995 and 1997 that were written as short stories, but fit within the novel.

I’ve read and reviewed a few books now by this thoughtful author, after being impressed with his laid back style of writing, so naturalistic that there was scarcely any plot, and so relaxing it was like taking an afternoon stroll with a friend.

This book is very, very different.

The story starts out plain enough, and  focuses around the main character, Toru Okada, who is currently unemployed, but happily so, and is spending his days completing the household chores whilst his wife goes to work. Then his wife goes missing. Don’t be fooled, this is not a straightforward missing person crime novel.

After his wife disappears Toru starts to try and find out where she is, and in the process encounters a variety of characters that tell him their stories, including a spiritual medium who is lost, a young girl skipping school who may or may not have good intentions, and an ex-military man who feels he cannot die.

This book is not written naturalistically. At all.  It is full of metaphor and symbolism. The chapters are many and divided into small sections that you have to piece together. In this book there are alternate dimensions, dark, surreal moments, and even a sex scene that occurs between two people that aren’t in the same room (yes, I know, I told you it was weird!)

All of these bizarre, interlinking stories and characters do come together in some way, and the ending pieces it together in a way that is thought provoking and satisfying. As strange as it is, this book was a very interesting read, and presents a mystery that is greatly enjoyable. All of the bizareness is cleverly interwoven with the mundane, and the everyday activities of life. Toru will take himself down into a water well to think for four hours (why? you’ll see..) but then afterwards does the grocery shopping. There is a strong spiritual element to this story.

This is a very well written book that, if you choose to delve into it, will have you thinking about the bigger questions in life, and the nature of light, darkness, good and evil. It is greatly enjoyable, as long as you expect it to be strange, and are willing to go along with the journey. It marks a definite shift in Haruki Murakami’s writing style that certainly has me interested in what comes next.

 

This book contains mature themes and is suitable for an adult audience.

 

Thanks for joining us and happy reading!

 

 

The Life of a Stupid Man

Are you poor? Love to read the best classical literature but you’re a little bit stingy?

Well I have the perfect solution for you! The good people at publishing house Penguin are printing 80 “Little Black Classics” books to celebrate their 80th anniversary. There are many wonderful things about these little black classics: they fit in the pocket of your coat, don’t take up much space in your bookshelf, and they are packed with great short stories by some of literature’s biggest names… for just $2 each! That’s less than most chocolate bars nowadays (heck, you could get both for less than $5 and have a swell afternoon!)

The little black classic I’m reviewing today is a beautiful piece of work by the Japanese author Ryunosuke Akatagawa and is called “The Life of a Stupid Man.” The books themselves are incredibly thin but you would be surprised at the amount of content they fit. This book features a short story, and two autobiographical pieces by Akatagawa. The short story, titled In a Bamboo Grove is set in a courthouse: a man has been murdered and the mystery behind who is his killer is unraveled as a variety of characters take the stand.  The storytelling is concise and masterful, and the story itself is intriguing.

It is in the next two sections where I believe the book has it’s greatest strength. Death Register and The Life of a Stupid Man are both autobiographical pieces. Death Register is Akatagawa reflecting upon his family life in the context of how all his closest relatives passed away. Sound morbid? It is. Akatagawa is regarded as one of Japan’s greatest short story authors and poets, however it is evident throughout his writing that he suffered from depression terribly.

The Life of a Stupid Man consists of 51 short reflections on various memories in his life. I’ve never seen an autobiography written this way and I thought it was outstanding. Instead of writing long, extensive accounts of every important aspect of his life, Akatagawa expertly condenses all the emotion, all the fine details of his most important memories into just a few lines. You instantly are transported to that time and place, if only for a moment, and see the world the way that he saw it then- then you move on to the next memory. Across the 51 snapshots there are some repetitions, callbacks and themes, so the piece as a whole flows beautifully, almost like a poem. When I reached the end I was overwhelmed by the wisdom Akatagawa seemed to possess, and was very surprised to find that he died by suicide at the age of just 35, which of course meant he wrote the autobiography of his short life also in his 30s. His exploration of  life and the nature of sadness ultimately lead to his death, but also influences his incredible work.

This book serves as a beautiful introduction to the work of Akatagawa that will make you want to read his other works, and is stunning and reflective in it’s own right.

 

Not bad at all for $2!

 

Thank you for reading, and welcome to The Boss Book Club!

 

Have you read other works by Akatagawa? Can you recommend any of the other Penguin Little Black Classics? Let me know in the comments below.