The point is, there is no point
While this reviewer isn’t a card carrying member of the Haruki Murakami cult (see Book Nook), she did keep an open mind about his latest book. Then her brain fell out....
SOME things in life are too complicated to explain in any language.”
This observation, made by a minor character in Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage, appears on the back cover of my uncorrected proof copy. I didn’t notice it until I’d finished reading the book, and then it seemed significant.
As I’d found the book an unremarkable, even tedious read, I wondered if it was too complicated a tale to be conveyed in English. Was it more effective in its original Japanese, or did Tsukuru’s life defy description and explanation in any language?
Tsukuru describes himself as colourless in relation to his best friends in secondary school because their surnames contain colour in them (Akamatsu means red pine; Oumi, blue sea; Shirane is white root; and Kurono, black field), while his does not. However, Tsukuru is not just colourless by name. He is an invisible character that makes no impression – not on me, at least.
On page one we meet him, a suicidal youth, crippled by grief, sleepwalking through life. Tsukuru desires death but can’t figure out how to achieve it. Apparently, he can’t fix on a way to end his life that will “fit the pure and intense feelings” he has towards death, but it seems to me that he lacks the necessary depth of feeling to do it. Taking one’s life might be a last ditch effort, an act of desperation, but one needs to be focused and determined. Tsukuru is too wishy-washy to take his own life. “If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open.” Unfortunately, for the lazy, ineffectual Tsukuru, there is no easy way out and, thus, unfortunately for me, he survives and 297 pages later is still schlepping feebly about the place.
More than 10 years ago, I read Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World (released in English in 1991) and was intrigued by its strangeness. Frankly, I loved it and looked forward to more by the author, but then I read A Wild Sheep Chase (1989), Dance Dance Dance (1994) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997), and found myself suddenly fed up to the back teeth of tales of pale, moody men who find themselves in the twilight zone.
Would Norwegian Wood (1989) have been an effective antidote at this point? I’ll never know. I have yet to read what I’ve been told is Murakami’s best work, but I do like his non-fiction, especially What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2008), which made me want to run (fortunately, for all of 10 minutes).
I came to Colorless Tsukuru with an open mind. After all, does anyone hope not to like a book, especially one that has to be reviewed? If you’re obliged to read it from cover to cover, it makes life a lot easier if the experience is a pleasant one, right?
Sadly, I was bored rigid from the first page. Worse still, I was incredulous and irritated. Tsukuru’s friends tell him to eff off and he just goes away and pines? Really? OK, I’m sure there are people out there who are so spineless and filled with self-loathing that they allow themselves to be treated shabbily by their supposed nearest-and-dearest. However, I just didn’t understand why Tsukuru was that sort of person. I didn’t see how his background had shaped him into a human doormat. And because I couldn’t understand him, I just couldn’t care about him.
I finished the book and was so underwhelmed that I read it again. I thought perhaps something had escaped me. Was Tsukuru a symbol whose significance I was too dense to recognise? Was his life all about man’s existential struggle and was I unmoved because I was in denial?
A second reading left me none the wiser.
A good friend who loves Murakami assured me that I’d not missed the point. She said, “The point is there is no point.”
I will take her word for it.