I pre-ordered Haruki Murakami's new novel ages ago and finally got it about a week ago. It was the perfect book to take along on a end-of-summer trip to the west coast of Finland (although if my destination had been Hämeenlinna, it would've been even more perfect... for reasons that will be explained later). ;) I think I will always associate the novel with the strange places and situations that I read it in: from a freezing cabin in the middle of the night to the cosy bed of a warm hotel room...
The impressively named Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage tells the story of a man who has been rejected and exiled from his close group of five high school friends. The reason for the ostracisation has never been explained to Tsukuru, and he has never gotten over the incident. Now, as an adult, he leads a lonely, relatively passive life with very few interests and no long-term emotional attachments. Finally, a wannabe-girlfriend urges him to find out the reason behind his traumatic experience in the past. During his search, Tsukuru finds himself accused of a serious crime he does not remember committing. But he (and the reader) cannot help but wonder if there is another alternate reality or perhaps another memory or a dream in which he actually did commit the crime...
I have to admit that while I was reading and right after I finished the book, I felt sort of confused, even slightly disappointed and let-down. Maybe 1Q84 was so great that my expectations were way too high. Compared to 1Q84, this book is somehow simpler, minimalistic. It's like Murakami is going back to the basics of his novels, to all the familiar things that make his novels his: the seemingly ordinary, middle-aged male protagonist; the importance of classical music; cooking simple, but tasty dinners; using exercise as a way to clear the mind; small hints at something magical or fantastic: alternate realities, dreams, look-alikes... All the elements are there, but in a simpler, subtler form.
|Interesting cover design: the "fingers" on the sleeve cover are plastic windows.|
Tsukuru Tazaki's travels also take him to Helsinki and Hämeenlinna. (This is only the second time in all of Murakami's novels that his main character travels outside Japan! The first was in Sputnik Sweetheart where Sumire goes to Greece.) I think that Finnish readers will enjoy this section of the novel; I certainly did! :) I got the impression that Murakami himself must have visited the places he describes, because the descriptions of e.g. a hotel room in central Helsinki and a café near the market square in Hämeenlinna are so vivid and detailed.
One of the best parts of the novel (which has very little to do with the plot, really) is a conversation Tsukuru has with two young Finnish girls who approach him in Hämeenlinna. He is eating cherries on a bench when the two girls start talking to him, asking him where he's from. Another part that made me smile is when a tiny, old Finnish man who looked as if he were enraged about something plants himself in the passenger seat of Tsukuru's car to show him the way to a cabin. :) Tsukuru also wonders whether it is appropriate to give tips in Finland, watches the trains come and go at the Helsinki Central Station and comes to the following brilliant conclusion: Coming up with witty sayings about life seemed, after all, to be a trait shared by all Finns. The long winters might have something to do with it.
But as I said, my overall first impression of the book was not that great. Part of the reason for this is also Tsukuru himself: he is probably one of the most unlikeable protagonists that Murakami has ever created. He is totally passive, has no self-confidence or self-esteem, and wanders through life aimlessly, trying to figure out what's wrong with him, because nobody loves him! He is definitely an antihero and I found it hard to sympathise with him at all.
Now that it has been several days since I finished the book, I'm starting to understand that there's definitely more there than meets the eye. There are multiple layers, some of which are only hinted at. And there may be a reason why Tsukuru seems so passive and distant, so black-and-white, entirely colorless... I don't think I can analyse it here without giving away too much.
I don't know what reality to believe in anymore, but I do know that now I'm confused in a good way. :)
And finally, in Finnish: Romaanin suomennos, Värittömän miehen vaellusvuodet, ilmestyy Tammen kustantamana viikon päästä, 4.9. Murakamia on nyt ensi kertaa suomennettu suoraan japanista, ei englanninkielisestä käännöksestä. Suomennos on Raisa Porrasmaan käsialaa. Kirja tuotti minulle aluksi pienen pettymyksen, mutta se on alkanut vasta nyt jälkeenpäin herättää muitakin ajatuksia. Murakami osaa kyllä hämmentää lukijan mieltä, ja tämäkin romaani on minusta moniulotteisempi kuin miltä se aluksi vaikuttaa. Lukumusiikiksi suosittelen Franz Lisztin Années de pèlerinagea; syy siihen käy kyllä pian ilmi kirjaa lukiessa. Itse oli pakko käydä heti kirjan päätyttyä kuuntemassa tuo kappale. :)
Haruki Murakami: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Knopf. 2014. 386 pages.
Originally published in Japanese as Shikisai o motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi
Translated by Philip Gabriel
Random House: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage