My favourite Haruki Murakami books were always the ones that contained magical and supernatural elements. Although I liked Norwegian Wood I felt decidedly let down by the fact that the world I encountered was so ordinary in comparison to that of Kafka on the Shore or Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
So, as I began reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage I decided to fear the worst. I knew that it was not going to be the new 1Q84. No alternative realities were going to manifest themselves, complete with mysterious little men and extra moons. I would have to make do with the real world.
But perhaps there is no such thing as a ‘real world’ in the universe of Haruki Murakami. The story might sound ordinary enough: young man is cut off from his friends, becomes depressed, and years later decides to find out what really happened. But once you step into the mind of Tsukuru Tazaki, and so into the mind of Haruki Murakami, the real world begins to feel surreal. The main story stays within the bounds of reality but the book does leave room for ambiguity. What is real and what is dream? We are always on the border of something unreal, even if it is only hinted at.
Perhaps this is the best way to experience the surreal? Not when it comes crashing into reality in the form of another universe, but when it hovers around the edges of the story imbuing it with a sense of the unreal in the real. When the ordinary is transformed by thoughts and dreams into something strange and alien.
The book is a melancholy story about the quest of Tsukuru Tazaki to find the truth about the event that traumatised him years ago. But beyond that lies the real goal, which is for Tsukuru to discover himself. Was he cut of from his friends because he was colourless, just an empty vessel, and therefore easy to leave behind? This is a book about exclusion, isolation and loneliness, and it asks questions many of us might have asked at some point in our lives. Are we worthy of the love we seek from the other?
This book far exceeded my expectations. I always knew I would like it, it is a Murakami after all, but I was scared I would not love it. And with Murakami anything short of love leaves me feeling slightly disappointed. There are no cats to speak of, and no exquisitely shaped ears, but it is Murakami throughout. The text is simple and moves the story forward, but every now and again a beautiful sentence made me pause and reread. After closing the book I had to sit still for a while, to savour the beauty of the final words, and the melancholy stillness they brought.