I have to make a confession: my one and only previous experience with Haruki Murakami’s work was not a positive one. I hated 1Q84. Hated it. As one of the most talked about books of 2011, I had high expectations and for the first quarter or so of the book I was intrigued by the story, though frustrated with the writing style. However, as the plot flattened out into repetitive nothingness, the tone grew more and more overtly misogynistic, and I eventually had to admit defeat and put it down in disgust. Fortunately for me, when I voiced this opinion (a little nervously – it’s a very popular book), not only did some people actually agree with me, but I was also overwhelmingly reassured that 1Q84 is not definitive of Murakami’s writing. Determined to give him another chance, I was tentatively hopeful in starting his most recent book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage.
The risk paid off – Colorless Tsukuru is gorgeous. Here, Murakami’s ponderous repetitions are not frustrating but fluid and captivating, the dream imagery woven throughout adds an otherworldliness to the contemporary urban setting and Tsukuru’s emotional pilgrimage takes on a meditative quality for the reader. The story centers on Tsukuru, who was once one of a tight-knit group of five friends living in what seemed to be a perfect balance. Each of the other four in the group had a colour in their name – the two boys’ last names were Akamatsu (red pine) and Oumi (blue sea), while the girls’ surnames were Shirane (white root) and Kurono (black field) – but Tsukuru means “to make”, leaving him colourless. Cast inexplicably out of the group in his early twenties, Tsukuru’s life has spiraled into nothingness. Murakami follows his journey through this nothingness and out the other side as he finally begins to search for the truth of his abandonment.
Reading Colourless Tsukuru is more about the journey than the outcome, and these events are not so much a plot as a series of elements that tie the story together with some degree of forward momentum. Inbetween layers of metaphor and philosophy is the song which gives the book its name, Franz Liszt’s Le mal du pays, from the Years of Pilgrimage suites, which is tied intrinsically into the emotions and fates of the characters. Listening to the music brings Murakami’s words to life, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the story originally came from the song, rather than the song being brought into the story.
I’m always more inclined to suggest reading a hardcopy book than anything digital, but this is one instance where I have to insist: go down to an independent bookstore and pick up the hardback version. A little part of this is the sheet of stickers included with the book, designed based on elements in the story, and though this could be viewed cynically as a mere marketing gimmick, it’s a rather lovely one. The stickers can essentially build illustrations on the cover or throughout the book – I think there’s a competition involved in this somewhere, but I simply loved the idea of making the book my own. However the main reason I would insist on forgoing the e-reader here is that this book is an experience that extends beyond reading the words on the page, an experience that encompasses the act of opening the book, turning the pages, and finally closing it at the end, getting a small amount of closure as Tsukuru waits forever for the impact of a choice that may change his life.