“I don’t know, there’s something about you. Say there’s an hourglass: the sand’s about to run out. Someone like you can always be counted on to turn the thing over.”
― Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase
The other day I was in the talking mecca known as the salon. My interest was piqued when I became aware of a conversation about reading that was going on next to me.
“…I’m reading something right now that’s an easy read,” said the woman in the chair to her stylist, who was, it soon became apparent, a personal friend. “It’s called Gone Girl.”
“I think I’ve heard of that,” said the stylist.
“Yeah, my book club picked that. It was like four months ago. I’m just now finishing it. I’ll drop it off at your house on my way to work when I’m done. I won’t need it again. I would have finished sooner, but someone had left a bunch of books in the kitchen at work, and I decided to read The Handmaid’s Tale. I figured I was too old not to have ever read that. But it was hard. I kept at it, because once I start a book, I have to finish it. But it took forever. You know there’s another book you might like, but you probably already saw the movie. The Help?
“No, I didn’t see it,” said the stylist.
“It’s easy too. Also, you might like that series I was reading, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and those books.”
“I saw that,” said the stylist. “Aren’t there…toture scenes?”
“Yes. There’s also a lot of corporation stuff that’s boring and you have to get through, but you can just scan that. For the most part, the books are easy.”
The conversation continued on in that fashion, and I thought, “Wow, it’s a tough time to be an author, if ‘easy’ is the requirement for recommending a book.” And yet, who doesn’t understand that? In between raising kids, work, and whatever else the two woman were doing, reading clearly isn’t a place they’re looking for a challenge. Plus, maybe I had missed the part where the stylist said she was going on a tropical vacation and was just looking for a beach read.
I looked at the book I was reading, Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase, and thought well, he didn’t get that “easy” memo. A short passage:
We can, if we so choose, wander aimlessly over the continent of the arbitrary. Rootless as some singed seed blown about on a serendipitous spring breeze.
Nonetheless, we can in the same breath deny that there is any such thing as coincidence. What’s done is done, what’s yet to be is clearly yet to be, and so on. In other words, sandwiched as we are between the “everything” that is behind us and the “zero” beyond us, ours is an ephemeral existence in which there is neither coincidence nor possibility.
In actual practice, however, distinctions between the two interpretations amount to precious little. A state of affairs not unlike calling the same food by two different names.
So much for metaphors.
A Wild Sheep Chase, like most of Murakami’s books, is as one GoodReads reviewer put it “like experiencing someone else’s dream.” In this Murakami dream, a 29-year-old nameless narrator is charged with finding a very special sheep. That’s the surface story. It’s also about Japanese identity, about the quest for meaning, and lots of abstract stuff. That same GoodReads reviewer has what I think is a great “review” of the novel—it’s mostly a bunch of images—an ear, a rat, a clock, a carton of Seven Stars cigarettes, a sheep, and so on. I think that works so well because books like this exist on a deeper level than “this happened, and then this” and it’s hard to articulate what you just read, even if on a deeper level you feel like you kind of get it. In other words, I don’t think the woman in the salon would recommend it.
From the New York Times review of the novel at the time of its U.S. publication:
On the surface, ”A Wild Sheep Chase” is just that: a mystery story with a long chase. A photograph of the wild sheep has appeared accidentally in a newsletter; like Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese falcon, the singular sheep is pursued by clashing interests. Is the sheep a symbol of something beyond the reach of an ordinary man, a devilish temptation? Does this wild sheep represent heroic morality or a Nietzschean superpower? Nietzsche is mentioned in the novel; so is the obsessive quest for Moby-Dick. The answer, if any, is left to the reader’s perception.
A Wild Sheep Chase is the part of Murakami’s Trilogy of the Rat (Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 precede it), though from what I understand it’s not a traditional series in the true sense of the word (I can’t comment as I haven’t read those two). I’ve read many of Murakami’s other works, and think if you haven’t read anything by him, this book is a great place to start—it’s on the short side, is simpler than some of his other works, but is representative of his style and themes. And though it may not exactly be “easy,” I do think it’s worth a read.