A WILD SHEEP CHASE / Haruki Murakami. 1989 (353 pgs)
First Sentence: “It was a short one-paragraph item in the morning edition. A friend rang me up and read it to me. Nothing special. Something a rookie reporter fresh out of college might’ve written for practice.” [I posted the entire first paragraph since Murakami’s style often requires several sentences to complete one thought. And this book was written prior to texting!]
Prevailing Narrative Voice: First person narrator and main character throughout most of the story. Occasionally the storyline switches to other scenes or readings from the news that have a different narrative source. Most of the story continues in present tense or present time activity but switches to the recent or distant past as in recalling a memory.
What the reader learns in the first paragraphs: The narrator learns of an obituary and tracks down information on the family and the funeral.
What the reader learns in the first ten pages: What is most startling about the first chapter (8 pages) is that the narrator who tells the story of a girl he hung out with, fed and slept with when he was twenty-one, doesn’t seem to be actually involved with his own story. The characters remain nameless and somewhat unidentified, except for their mental / emotional descriptions. We learn that this part of the story takes place in Tokyo, but we learn nothing else of the where or what the place they inhabit looks like. There is a date stamp of “October 25, 1970” as a chapter heading, but little other information of time, place or setting is revealed to the reader. I estimate that this is to offer a sense of uniformity and interchangeability to the characters, their situation and setting. In the last short paragraph, and from out of the blue, we learn that the girl he is sleeping with projects that she “…is going to live to be twenty-five,” she said, “then die.” July, eight years later, she was dead at twenty-six. This, seemingly, ties the story back to the obituary and funeral at the beginning. In the next section titled: “Part Two, July, eight years later”, we meet the narrator returning home, drunk (presumably from the funeral) and justifying the difference between being drunk and being a drunk, which his business partner has lately become.
Character: There isn’t much to say about character description. This narrator / main character does not describe character traits very far beyond wardrobe quirks and language exchanges. The reader is not offered much in the way of description beyond what they can glean from the narrative. Even though one may feel they are being narrated to by a somewhat disembodied guy, there is still a strong sense of a person with a good story leading the reader down the narrative path.
Setting: In the first ten pages there is so little setting revealed beyond the most intimate and interchangeable elements of chairs, beds, streets that the narrator occupies, this reader wonders if we are supposed to already be familiar with the larger setting of Tokyo in order to comprehend the lesser portions. As there is a large time jump between the first and second chapters and that each of the characters narrated and narrating seem to be mixed up, the lack of ground in the form of setting seems justified. There is a strongly unsettled feeling about the story being told by the narrator, to the point that I don’t trust him to relay information accurately. It is very odd to me that, as a reader, if I am not connected to the setting of a story. In this case I have a difficult time entering the world of the narrator’s story. Murkami has utilized this effect expertly, leaving this reader hanging at every turn, waiting for more information that will support the narrative.
Plot & Expectations beyond the tenth page: Like several of the first ten pages posted on this site, there is a tremendous expectation that the narrator is going to let us in on more information at any moment. The title is odd. The events in the first paragraph are odd. The events that unfold during the first chapter are unconventional (think 1970). And so there is a building desire for some element of convention that the reader can relate to.
Random Comments: Why does the reader continue beyond these first ten pages? In this case the book was assigned to my class by a fiction-writing professor. Based on the book jacket blurbs and the author’s bio, I would not have chosen to read A WILD SHEEP CHASE. But, I was soon drawn in to the world of the nameless narrator and all the other generically named characters in the story. (“My ex-wife, my girlfriend, the secretary, the guy across the hall, etc.) Murakami creates a very simple story where the main character must find a sheep. Murakami presents all the information for the narrator to present back to the reader without the narrator grasping the gist of the facts and so he spins his wheels in the pointless (self-admitted) distractions of fruitless meandering that somehow circle around into making a lot of sense. If you are a fan of author JIM KRUSOE’s stories, you will really enjoy Murakami. A further note about character: Even after finishing the story, I cannot tell much of what the main character looks like. I made a racial generalization, which I plugged in to meet the needs of my imagination, but other than “generic Japanese twenty-something pre-slacker” I wouldn’t be able to point him out in a line up. I find that odd.