Murakami’s much-publicised new novel seemed very familiar to me; he touches on similar themes, similar motifs, in most of his novels. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was a birthday present for me, pre-ordered earlier in the year, so I was looking forward to it. My edition (from Waterstones) comes with stickers you can use to create your own design on the cover. I know that this is a gimmick but I enjoyed this, giving a montage of parts of the novel that stayed with me.
The colourless-ness attributed to Tsukuru Tazaki originates from Tsukuru’s teenage years, when he was part of a group of five friends and he had the only name that didn’t contain a colour. After he left his hometown to go to university he was suddenly rejected by his colourful group of friends, with one of them saying ‘I’m sorry, but I have to ask you not to call any of us anymore.’ Tsukuru cannot fathom any reason for this rejection, and he ends up in a deep pit of depression which he never really recovers from. Twenty or so years later he meets Sara, who believes that this rejection is still impinging on his life, that he struggles to connect with other people. Sara urges him to find out what happened, why he was rejected. And these are the years of pilgrimage to which the title alludes.
I did enjoy this novel. But for such a plot-driven novel, much is left uncertain. The reason for Tsukuru’s friends cutting him off is that one member of the group, Shiro, tells the others that Tsukuru raped her. But much of this is left unsolved. Tsukuru protests that he didn’t rape Shiro, but then begins to wonder if he did. Things here are left untied; generally I like this in fiction, because in life things aren’t all neatly solved. But here I thought that the novel was maybe a little too meandering. Perhaps this is the point, as it does concern Tsukuru’s years of pilgrimage. Tsukuru is left in the dark and the reader knows as much as he does.
I found Tsukuru’s meetings with his old school friends to be very insightful. People can change in some unimaginable ways, and stay the same in other ways. I felt that Tsukuru’s meeting with Kuro was particularly well-drawn: it is strange to look back on adolescence as a detached adult, when things are much less emotional. Murakami has a style that I get on well with; dreamy but thoughtful and observant. The book fell a little flat for me, however, because I was left with a feeling of ‘is that it?’ at the end. This was a quick read, and Murakami is very good at placing images in my mind, he is an evocative author. I remember certain scenes so clearly. I did enjoy reading about poor Tsukuru, but I don’t think that this is Murakami’s best novel.