When he felt hungry he stopped by the local supermarket and bought an apple or some vegetables. Sometimes he ate plain bread, washing it down with milk straight from the carton. When it wasn’t time to sleep, he’d gulp down a glass of whiskey as if it were a dose of medicine. Luckily he wasn’t much of a drinker, and a small dose of alcohol was all it took to send him off to sleep. He never dreamed. But even if he had dreamed, even if dreamlike images arose from the edges of his mind, they would have found nowhere to perch on the slippery slopes of his consciousness, instead quickly sliding off, down into the void.
So I was straight back in the wild weird world of Murkami from page one, a world in which all of his characters live in a world that is tilted slightly off from our own but that Murakami makes normal by his minimal functional prose and touches of everydayness (think I’ve just made up that one).
Tsukuru Tazaki is one of the most normal characters I have come across in a Murakami novel, except maybe his slightly odd passion for railway stations, and maybe the way he observes where people have colour in their names, contrasting with his own colourlessness, which is a reason he believes he’s a nobody. However, after forming an incredibly strong bond with four other people in the formative years of his life, he is suddenly and inexplicably cast out from the group and left on his own.
After coming to terms with his sudden isolation Tazaki has few friends and even fewer girlfriends, but one convinces him to go back to his old friends and find out why he was so cruelly expelled from of their lives.
It actually sounds like a normal story, and it very nearly is. Except it’s Murakami, so it’s all slightly kooky, but a good if not weird kooky. The thoughts and experiences of the characters sometimes verge on borderline horror, and I do wonder if this is normal for Japanese people, or if it’s just Murakami, or if it’s something hidden with the Japanese psyche that Murakmai has tapped into. I didn’t want to guess at the reason why his friends broke off contact from Tazaki. I knew I would never be able to guess, but I think also I was scared that I might guess right, and that would mean I’d be in Murakami’s world.
This isn’t a dream, Tsukuru decided. Everything is too distinct to be a dream. But he couldn’t say if the person standing there was the real Haida. The real Haida, in his actual flesh and blood, was sound asleep on the sofa in the next room. The Haida standing here must be a kind of projection that had slipped free of the real Haida. That’s the way it felt.
Tazaki spends considerable time thinking about the reasons he doesn’t hold down friendships, and his theories touch upon universal feelings of belonging and friendships that Murakami explores in his own slightly abstract way, without becoming sentimental or mawkish. Driven by his girlfriend who correctly spots that in order for him to fulfil his life he needs to clear out the debris of his past, Tazaki resolves to find out what prompted the exile that had so far defined his life.
So in his own methodical and understated way, Tazaki finds and meets up with his friends to try and understand what happened to their incredible friendship.
I don’t want to reveal too much, and Murakami resists tying up all the loose ends, seems to even resist giving the story an ending. It is Tazaki himself that seems to reach a milestone, and it’s a good place to stop. At the end what makes colorless Tazaki such a great character is not the fact that he’s a nobody, but that in fact, he’s everybody.
He thought about Sara, her mint-green dress, her cheerful laugh, and the middle-aged man she was walking with, hand in hand. But these thoughts didn’t lead him anywhere. The human heart is like a night bird. Silently waiting for something, and when the time comes, it flies straight toward it.
He shut his eyes and gave himself over to the tones of the accordion. The monotonous melody wended it’s way through the noisy voices and reached him, like a foghorn, nearly drowned out by the crashing waves.