Monday, July 5, 2010

Review: A Wild Sheep Chase

As expected, Haruki Murakami’s quasi-detective novel A Wild Sheep Chase contains his trademark off-the-wall characters: a chain-smoking narrator who frequently dreams of a train to nowhere, which is pretty much the metaphor for his whole life; a girl with magically seductive ears; a big-time right-wing politico; a chauffeur who knows God’s phone number; an ovine-obsessed professor; and a manic-depressive in a sheep costume. Throw them all in a mock-mystery surrounding a certain sheep with a star-shaped birthmark (which may or may not be existing), sprinkle some rather zany humor and what you’ve got is a recipe for an entertaining read that will make you want to grab another screwball novel by this magnificent writer after you turn the last page.


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I have no idea at first that this is actually the predecessor of Dance, Dance, Dance, which I read months before I purchased this book. I found it out when I skimmed the pages and saw a chapter mentioning the “Dolphin Hotel”, which is an important setting in the said sequel. Dance, Dance, Dance can stand alone—in fact I did not feel as if I’m losing some important fact or anything when I read it. I have to admit, though, that A Wild Sheep Chase still erected a strong foundation leading to the events of Dance, Dance, Dance, particularly the disappearance of the unnamed narrator’s love. As for the tone, I am positive that there is quite a large difference between the two books; I liked A Wild Sheep Chase’s overall atmosphere, but its sequel has a larger tinge of oddball comedy (which sometimes slips into the “morbid” lane) so I liked it more.

The book’s title itself tells what the ending of the story will be, but that will not deter the reader from enjoying the turn of events. Obviously the term ‘wild sheep chase’ comes from the original idiom ‘wild goose chase’, which means a futile search for something or a useless often lengthy pursuit. It is expected in the end that all the adventures our narrator and his girlfriend go through will turn out to be in vain. A score of pages from the last chapter, you know the ending will be inevitably hopeless and/or sad. You know, but when you read it, it’s not the kind of lonely ending you are expecting.

I liked the bits about Japanese history, sheep industry, the first settlement in Hokkaido, as well as the events circulating the Russo-Japanese war. Another good thing you acquire when you read Murakami’s books is that you’re teaching yourself something about Asian history without being attacked by severe ennui, the type you usually get in history classes. :D Of course Murakami would treat these facts with fictitious touch, but more or less the information is useful.

All in all, it’s a very entertaining read. Not as plot-driven as his works that I’ve read before, but still it’s getting a thumb up from me. :)

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