Way back in highschool, Tsukuru Tazaki was the fifth person in an inseparable group of friends. After meeting in a volunteer program, they did everything together as a pentagonal unit. Then, suddenly, after Tsukuru left their provincial hometown to go to engineering school in Tokyo, he was cut off. His hitherto steadfast friends stopped answering his calls and one of them phoned to explain that none of them ever wanted to be contacted by or see Tsukuru ever again. Utterly baffled by this turn of events, he fell into a depressive void at college that he barely survived and went on to have a fairly unremarkable life. Tsukuru rarely got close to another person ever again.
Now thirty six years old and finally dating someone he actually might love, said date tells him that he clearly still has emotional baggage lingering from his friend breakup. Thus, Tsukuru Tazaki sets off to locate each of his friends and discover what happened to cause his severance.
OK, it’s true. You can play Murakami Bingo. He has a set of tropes that repeat in all of his novels. Mysterious women. Alter egos. Cats. Dream sex. Name brand whiskey. When I first read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I was blown away. Then I read a few more of his novels and became progressively let down that so much of it repeats. But now I’ve come around, come to terms with the recycling. There’s nothing terribly wrong with utilizing the same ideas, rearranging the same story or reusing the same hero with slight differences. I think as a reader you just have to be prepared for it (and only read the guy every few years).
I am not sure how much of the above realization fed into my enjoyment of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, but it was my favorite Murakami novel since Wind Up Bird. The central mystery — why Tsukuru was kicked out of the group — is intriguing, and when half-way through the book, the mystery is partially revealed, only more questions arise. That very little of them are answered doesn’t matter.
Murakami’s style is withdrawn and subdued. No one ever seems to act with passion (indeed, part of Tsukuru’s character arc is learning to make bold, passionate moves). Characters hardly react to world-shaking events or emotional trauma. There’s a peculiar cadence that marks the characters and the dialogue itself. Everyone talks in the same measured tone, punctuated by commas. They answer each other in complete sentences:
Reader, would you like fries with that?
Yes writer, I honestly would like fries with that, thank you for asking.
It sort of feels like Murakami is in the room with you, sipping whiskey at measured intervals and speaking in an entirely monotone voice. Also, you are blindfolded. Half-asleep. But it’s pleasant enough.