A Wild Sheep Chase

“I’m enclosing a photo. A picture of sheep. I’d like you to put it somewhere, I don’t care where, but someplace people can see it. I realize I’m making this request out of the blue, but I’ve got no one else I can ask. I’ll let you have every last ounce of my sex appeal if you do me this favor. I can’t tell you the reason why, though. This photo is important to me. Sometime, at some later date, I’ll explain everything to you.” (p. 97)

This is the request which Rat makes of his old friend, our nameless narrator, in a letter. How bizarre, then, that a hundred or so pages later we find this request made to him from an austere man dressed in black:

“You do not have to speak if you do not want to,” said the man. “Instead, I will send you out in search of the sheep. These are our final terms. If within two months from now you succeed in finding the sheep, we are prepared to reward you however you would care to request. But if you should fail to find it, it will be the end of you and your company. Agreed?”

“Do I have any choice?” I asked. “And what if no such sheep with a star on its back ever existed in the first place?”

“It is still the same. For you and for me, there is only whether you find the sheep or not. There are no in-betweens.” (p. 146)

What can it mean, finding a sheep with a star on its back which may, or may not, exist? With Murakami, one never knows for certain. Perhaps there is such a sheep, perhaps not; the importance, I believe, lies in part with the quest.

“The hotel owner accepted the luggage graciously. I settled the bill up through the following day and told him we’d be back in a week or two.

‘Was my father of any help?’ he asked worriedly.

I said that he’d helped enormously.

‘I sometimes wish I could go off in search of something he declared, “but before getting even that far, I myself wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to search for. Now my father, he’s someone who’s been searching for something all his life. He’s still searching today. Ever since I was a little boy, my father’s told me about the white sheep that came to him in his dreams. So I always thought that’s what life is like. An ongoing search.’ (p.229)

So, what does this sheep represent? A singular sheep with a star on its back…I’m still struggling with that. I feel it could be something like a quest, as I said before, but it must be more than that. It’s the title of the book, for goodness sake, and a key element for so many characters. I’m wondering if the sheep could stand for weakness in us, because it is only when the sheep is asleep inside the characters that they are able to be free. Could it be guilt? Fear? Hatred? Anything that is our own particular point of failure? I suspect so.

“The key point here is weakness,” said the Rat. “Everything begins from there. Can you understand what I’m getting at?”

“People are weak.”

“As a general rule,” said the Rat, snapping his fingers a couple of times. “But line up all the generalities you like and you still won’t get anywhere. What I’m talking about now is a very individual thing. Weakness is something that rots in the body. Like gangrene. I’ve felt that ever since I was a teenager. That’s why I was always on edge. There’s this something inside you that’s rotting away and you feel it all along. Can you understand what that’s like?”

I sat silent, wrapped up in the blanket.

“Probably not,” the Rat continued. “There isn’t that side to you. But, well, anyway, that’s weakness. It’s the same as a hereditary disease, weakness. No matter how much you understand it, there’s nothing you can do to cure yourself. It’s not going to go away with a clap of the hand. It just keeps getting worse and worse.” (p. 333)

The conclusion of A Wild Sheep Chase was shocking and distressing to me. Nevertheless, I love it because as usual, Murakami brings up the essential through the oblique. We puzzle through, as readers, wondering exactly what he’s getting at, all the while enjoying the Story.

This is my fifth Murakami novel, and I’m finding the following traits consistent in each:

  • cats
  • missing wives/women
  • sex
  • brutal honesty rather than pretension
  • seemingly apathetic heroes
  • a quest

It is my quest to read all of his works, and then probably at some point in my life read them all over again. (I’ve already read Kafka on the Shore twice, and found it immeasurable enriching the second time around.) He is one of the few authors who always has something new to say to me, each time I open one of his books. This one in particular was read for Tanabata’s read-along, as a precursor to Dance Dance Dance which will be discussed March 29th. I hope to see you there.

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32 thoughts on “A Wild Sheep Chase”

  1. I've not read A Wild Sheep Chase, though I've read Dance Dance Dance. So I rarely read any of the quotes you pulled out… I'm planning to read the book some time though, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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  2. I am a big fan of Murakami and this is one that I think I own (I might be wrong though) so therefore is one that I will be reading fairly soon though someone very kind just sent me after dark and I really want to read that one next (partly because its very short) but this one sounds great.

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  3. The conclusion I do not know but I love enigmatic books. Books where the words have deeper meaning that they seem at first glance. I will keep Murakami in mind.

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  4. Have you not found the ears yet, then, in your list of repeated things? He writes an awful lot about women's ears. And making omelettes while listening to classical music.A Wild Sheep Chase is the first of all the Murakami I read, and the only one I don't own anymore (darn bad borrowers). I'm pretty sure I've read everything available in English except Pinball, 1973, which isn't readily available outside Japan. Really looking forward to his next one getting translated too.

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  5. Of course, ears! Duh! And, cooking spaghetti or omelettes while listening to classical music! I'm not sure why I didn't add those to my list as they were perfectly obvious when I read your comment.I heard that Pinball, 1973 was available on-line, but I'm not a huge fan of reading from my computer (unless it's blogs). I should do a search and see if that's still true.

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  6. I must not visit your blog often enough. Every time I bop over here, it looks entirely different! Pretty header!So far, I haven't made it through a Murikami book. I love his writing, but I keep bogging myself down with books that have review due dates and not finishing those I already own. Soon, soon. Le sigh. *Whiny moment ends*

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  7. Nancy, for awhile there, you could have come every other day and found a different template. I loved my dark template from this winter, with the Renaissance angels and snow at Christmas, then the St. Mark's library in January, but it came to my knowledge that people found it difficult to read white text on a black background. Since then, I've been hunting for something I liked…it appears to be elusive. At least this header is 'Spring-like'. (I'd take a photograph, but I dropped my digital camera and it broke. Until I get a new one, here is where I'll rest.)I find it an immense frustration to have so many review books that one can't fit it one's choices. I totally sympathize with you, no whiney moment seen from my point of view!I do hope you'll finish a Murakami. He's my passion.

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  8. Your review is so thorough yet without spoilers – I particularly love this description of the author: "brings up the essential through the oblique." I think I might teach that way…?!I will definitely keep this book/author in mind when I'm ready for something new.

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  9. I'm a quarter through the book. Like you I aspire to read all of his books in my lifetime! I chuckled when you said:This is my fifth Murakami novel, and I’m finding the following traits consistent in each:cats missing wives/women sex brutal honesty rather than pretension seemingly apathetic heroes a quest and I totally agree with you! Great review.

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  10. Great review! I've read A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance last year. Before, Wind-up Birdchronicles was my favourite… But after these two I wasn't too sure anymore. Although the political stuff in 'Sheep' was a bit beyond me.BTW, remember what I vowed to do with the koi maki-e stickers I won in your November giveaway? 😉

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  11. It is very spring-like — love the colors. Condolences on the loss of your camera. Someday I'll finish a Murakami. We just moved a bookshelf, which means I had to go through the entire contents. I discovered The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood were both on that shelf. Now, that I've eliminated a few books, I can easily locate my Murakami when I'm ready. Wahoo for that. 🙂

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  12. After Dark was the first novel of his I read, after giving his short stories a try and being perplexed by his style of writing. I think After Dark is the perfect starting place for those readers who are first venturing into Murakami. It's not too long, and it's not too vague.

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  13. Stephanie, I'm glad you liked that line (I wonder if I teach that way, too ;). It's hard to write about Murakami without spilling too much, or being clear enough. I always wonder, "Am I really understanding what he's saying?" I do my best, though, and I always love where he takes me. Even if I'm not sure how I got there.

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  14. Everyone says the sheep is about a political subject, but other than being anti-war, I personally don't see it. I found the sheep to more about the workings of our hearts, what plagues us, which is different for every one. But, that's just my interpretation.

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  15. Oh just stop it!!! Your Murakami reviews are unbeatable teasers… Now I just have to go and find this and dance, dance dance. I would like to hold off until JRC4 but I don't think I can if you keep this up. I love your list of things he repeats in his novels – I've noticed a strong theme of loss or the fear of loss (remember the girl who lost her name?)- and I wonder if this is what keeps me interested – perhaps we all have this fear and he just finds a way to explain his experience.

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  16. That's what happens when you're in love… :)Also, the later part of your comment hits on why I must love him so; he gets at the core of my emotions, the issues which unsettle me, and after I've read one of his books I'm thinking about the issues, the story, the 'plot' for months afterward.

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  17. Like you, I'm trying to read all of Murakami. Have only read three books thus far, and Wild Sheep Chase is one of them. I liked it, but didn't absolutely love it. The ending was disturbing – I want to read the prequels/sequel to this though, to see how it all started/ended.

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  18. The ending was very disturbing, shocking to me, in fact. I never saw that coming. Rat must have felt a terrible, unconquerable sorrow in his soul…of the triology (Pinball, 1973, Sheep Chase, Dance Dance Dance) this is the only one I've read. I, too, want to go back to Pinball and see what I've missed. I've read that Dance Dance Dance only loosely follows A Wild Sheep Chase, supposedly it's more about the night life in Japan's cities, but any way, I want to read it. Don't you suppose that Rat's death was in part due to guilt/grief over the war? He was so hopeless, as I suspect more people are deep down than they let others know.

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  19. I wasn't talking of the sheep but of the old man — he's the head of some sort of political party, right? *Noticing I have forgotten a lot already*Sorry for the late reply 😉

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  20. I've never read any books from this author before , but reading this review made me wish I had . This a great review, and this book sounds very interesting as well .

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