Well, that went quickly. Four books in, what, two weeks? Lots of Haruki Murakami. Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, and A Wild Sheep Chase were his first three novels. Then, he wrote Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and Norwegian Wood before returning to his first series-of-sorts with the novel I just read, Dance Dance Dance. Keep in mind that I’ve read every one of Murakami’s novels published in English. If I was any good at learning other languages, I’d like to learn to read Japanese specifically for his books. (Maybe a goal for 2014?) I love this man.
As I’ve said before, Hard-Boiled Wonderland was the first Murakami novel I ever read. I remember trolling through the fiction shelves at the Urbana Free Library and picking it up off of an end display because I liked the title and the cover. It was a big book, longer than I usually read at the time, but I was intrigued. I loved that book.
After that, I’m pretty sure, came A Wild Sheep Chase. I read these around 2006, way before I started this blog. I didn’t like it as much, but I was still fascinated by Murakami – I’m pretty sure he was my first entry into magical realism. I didn’t discover Gabriel Garcia Marquez until years later – One Hundred Years of Solitude was my first book of 2011, in fact. I’d never encountered such an interesting blend of fantasy and reality, where fantasy was there but kind of on the fringes.
It’s interesting to see Murakami’s progression from his first book to Dance Dance Dance and beyond. A Wild Sheep Chase seems to be the first book full of traits that easily could help me to identify Murakami from a pile of other authors, like a needle in a haystack. There are the telltale markers like a concentration of cats and wells – and an infatuation with American culture, especially music. The fantasy part usually takes place in another world, of sorts, but crosses over to this one in distinct areas.
That’s what happens in Dance Dance Dance. The (still) unnamed narrator searches for Kiki, his previously unnamed girlfriend who disappeared near the end of A Wild Sheep Chase. He returns to the Dolphin Hotel, where they stayed and met the Sheep Professor, who was the key to finding the special sheep and the Rat in Hokkaido in the previous novel. It’s been razed and rebuilt, and it’s entirely different: it’s huge and modern, with a professional staff. The worn-out, old, dusty Dolphin Hotel is gone. Except sometimes, when the narrator (or his new girlfriend), happen upon a secret space, where the hallway is pitch black except for one room, where the Sheep Man (not the Sheep Professor) keeps watch over the sheep research and holds the narrator’s consciousness together, like a knot. That’s the separate world, more like that of Hard-Boiled Wonderland than A Wild Sheep Chase. The narrator gets a vague understanding of what’s going on, then searches for a way to tie all of it together. Lots of other characters become involved, including the thirteen-year-old daughter of a famous photographer and a bestselling novelist/travel writer suspiciously named Hiraku Makimura. It’s quite a story.
I think the original Japanese covers best illustrate the nature of this book:
So. Where does it fit in with the previous three in this “series”? After rereading all of them, I understand the “Rat Trilogy” label, as the Rat is mentioned all of once in Dance Dance Dance, and only in passing. But the same unnamed man narrates all four – it’s really his story. We see him in college, out in the world for his first time, and when he’s in his mid-thirties. He grows up in these novels in a lot of ways. So should we call it The Unnamed Narrator Tetralogy? I don’t know. I’m sticking to the Rat series here because I’ve already tagged the posts. I’m not sure what to do with it. Really, you don’t need to have read A Wild Sheep Chase to enjoy Dance Dance Dance, though I think I understood more having read it. Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 definitely aren’t necessary.
Of these four, Dance Dance Dance is my favorite, and I’ll argue that it’s the best. I can definitely see the progression from A Wild Sheep Chase to Hard-Boiled Wonderland – and how the extremes of the latter might have made him retreat to the more-“normal” Norwegian Wood. Dance Dance Dance seems more of a middle ground (though he doesn’t stay here: Kafka on the Shore and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle are more like Hard-Boiled Wonderland).
So, there you go. I’ve reread the Rat series, as I’ll call it. I’m glad I liked A Wild Sheep Chase more this time around, and I’m glad I wrote about each novel as I read it so maybe they won’t run together in my head. If you haven’t read Murakami, by all means, jump in. Norwegian Wood if you don’t want to go too far from reality or Hard-Boiled Wonderland if you do. Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or 1Q84 if you’re in for a mammoth read. I think Murakami is one of the very best authors out there who’s still alive and writing.
Bonus: Here’s the version of Hard-Boiled Wonderland I was talking about earlier. I noticed that my header image includes that edition, so I snapped a photo: