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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

For a while, this oddball noir by Japan’s most popular literary novelist manages to pull you through on the strength of its increasing absurdity and readable, if altogether too simplistic, prose. But when the time comes for the novel to reap what it has sown, and Murakami has to pull the various threads of his story into a conclusion, he falters badly. The reader is left with an utterly unsatisfying ending which to be frank, is quite stupid and nonsensical.

The nameless protagonist and narrator of A Wild Sheep Chase is an aloof advertising executive, recently divorced and dating a woman with unusual powers, the source of which are apparently her perfectly beautiful ears. He runs into trouble after using a photograph of sheep grazing on a hillside, sent to him by a reclusive former friend, as an image in a magazine ad. He is contacted by an associate of the nefarious magnate who secretly runs Tokyo and is told to find one of the sheep in the picture, helpfully tagged with a black star on its side, or else.

The narrator’s search, on which his girlfriend tags along, initially offers promise of spectacle and intrigue, but Murakami gets bogged down in endless detail about sheep-raising, and the history of the small town to which the narrator travels. One hike up to a secluded mansion goes on and on, for no discernible reason. Then the reader is subjected to pages and pages of the narrator doing everyday chores.

If all this boredom is meant to somehow make the conclusion seem more dramatic by comparison, it fails even in that respect. The conclusion involves such outright hokum that it made me physically angry. Obviously nothing is out of bounds in fiction, especially not when you build up to it throughout the novel, but the ending here involves needlessly casting aside a central character for the last 50 pages, needlessly introducing an uninteresting character at the last minute, and perhaps the most flagrant dues ex machina since Aristophanes was upright and breathing.

Stay away. This is the second Murakami novel that I’ve found wanting, although I’m not yet ready to dismiss him. It’s possible I may give him another chance, but I will have to receive assurances from multiple trusted sources.

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