Book review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novelColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A caveat, before we begin: Murakami is one of my favourite authors. So chances are I was bound to dig this anyway. But I must confess – when I begin every new work of his, I find myself questioning whether I really like what I’m reading. Whether I understand it. I’ve read his stuff so long I feel that liking it out of the gate is almost a default setting – but I was happy to feel slightly conflicted, at least, with this new one.

I’ve yet to slog my way through IQ84 so I can’t say exactly how Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His years of Pilgrimage compares to its predecessor. But if we divide the author’s work into “weird” and “normal”, then this falls into the latter. If anything, it reminded me of a variation on some of the themes touched on in Norwegian Wood – though “love, loss and youth” is a pretty wide remit.

Some claim Murakami is a one-trick pony, but I don’t really buy it. I mean, there’s no sheep men in here for a start. True, you can play a certain level of Murakami Bingo with this work, but I feel it’s a refinement. It’s nice to read something shorter, and though there is a level of repetition in the work, I take it as being indicative of the routine of Tsukuru’s life, rather than as a case of author failure. Breasts and boners come up (har har) pretty regularly because with guys they do – I don’t think it’s laziness in writing.

It could be suggested Murakami’s characterisation is a bit lax – some characters seem to exist purely to motivate the main character, or provide some fantasy fodder – but this is undercut somewhat by the level of fine detail provided. It’s as if there’s a portrait created with a few broad strokes, but one particular part – an ear, a finger, a pocket – is rendered in supreme detail. I think it’s a technique to provide something solid enough to anchor the character, but with enough vagueness to allow the reader to create a portrait which fits in with their own life. There’s a universality in Tsukuru’s pursuits which I felt applied to me, I guess. Maybe that’s the point – love and pain and growth and separation are universal, no matter how much one shuts oneself away.

I don’t want to give away much of the book’s story – I found part of the joy of reading it was the way it unfolded almost effortlessly. But if you’re looking for cap-W Weird stuff in here, you’ll be disappointed. This is about everyday concerns, everyday people. There’s strangeness, sure, but it’s the strangeness which occurs as a byproduct of life and the paths we take, not the strangeness that occurs from a guy in a sheep suit.

(I will admit, the ending was more vague than I’d hoped. But it fit.)

A curious happening that may have coloured my view of this colourless book: when my copy arrived it was a large print version. Somehow, I’d ordered the wrong version, and so I was stuck reading a paperback filled with type you could read from across the room. But it added to the everyday strangeness of the novel.

If you’ve ever intensively edited copy for hours, you’ll know you reach a point where you look at words so long they cease to have any meaning, and become merely a collection of serif worms. It’s like looking at Lumberton in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, or at Twin Peaks and realising you’re seeing something usual but there’s something a little off about it. That’s what large print did for me. This text is ripe for that kind of psychosis-through-the-normal experience.

So I’m not entirely sure reading a large print version will work the same magic on you, but for me it was an interesting addendum. But the rewards are there, regardless of the type size. If you’ve visited Tokyo (Aoyama, Shinjuku, Ebisu) then you’ll have an extra twinge of recognition.

This is worth reading. It’s not strange, it’s not quite as Murakami Bingo as other titles… but it seems more direct. More honest. It’s a very quick read, but you’ll think on it after…

My Goodreads profile is here.

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