Book: A Wild Sheep Chase (1982) by Haruki Murakami
Genre: Magical realism
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: While not necessarily one of the first works that come to mind when thinking of Haruki Murakami, his third novel is arguably the most famous in the “Trilogy of the Rat”. The plot of this relatively short book—approximately 300 pages, depending on which publisher you choose—is rather simple. The first chapters introduce us to an unnamed protagonist in his early 20’s whose life seems to be falling apart. He is worried not only about the future of his job at an advertising company, but also about his romantic life, as his wife recently left him for one of his friends.
Things change when he starts dating a model whom he doesn’t immediately love, but whose ears—out of all body parts—fascinate him. Some improvement is seemingly on the way in his professional life as well: when his friend “The Rat” sends him an idyllic picture of a sheep with a star–shaped mark on its back. He decides to use it for an ad “so everyone can see it”. However, this means that the wrong people can see it too, and when a Tokyo businessman/mob boss takes an unusual interest in the photograph, he is given thirty days to find the mysterious sheep, or he risks facing serious consequences.
The novel thus follows our protagonist all over Japan in his seemingly hopeless quest: with “The Rat” nowhere to be found and only a not–so–revealing photo to cling to, the man is pushed outside of his comfort zone as he is forced to interact with people in order to trace the whereabouts of the enigmatic animal. But just like the title—cleverly translated into English as a play on “a wild–goose chase”—suggests, the search might be in vain.
A Wild Sheep Chase is written in the typical Murakami manner, playing on stark language and dry humor to give an apparent sense of realism to a story that is anything but lifelike. It’s hard for me to include it in a specific genre: it’s a thriller, a romance, a coming–of–age story and a travel journal all at once. Nevertheless, if you enjoy the author’s fixation on loneliness and the individual’s failed attempts at effective communication, then this novel—which I prefer to refer to as a philosophical allegory—is for you.
Memorable quote: “Sometimes I get real lonely sleeping with you.”
Who should read it: Check it out if you like daydreaming, silence, striking imagery, magical realism and/or existential nihilism (hey there, Sartre & Camus enthusiasts!)
Why it’s a good summer pick: It’s intellectual and punchy without being too labor–intensive to read. War and Peace isn’t exactly a beach read, but A Wild Sheep’s Chase is a happy medium.
Where you’re reading it: On a park bench while SABSing. Your future spouse will be impressed with your taste in literature.