Thursday, 11 September 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage Review (Haruki Murakami)


This was Murakami’s last chance - and he blew it. 

After the awful experience of slogging through 1Q84 Book 3, I vowed to give up on Haruki Murakami from then on. In the three years since though II decided I’d give him one last chance with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. After all, I’ve read 10 of his books now and I’ve enjoyed a few and 1Q84 Books 1 and 2 weren’t bad, I reasoned. But, after Colorless, I can safely say me and Murakami are done and I will never be returning to read any more of his fiction. 

So, why is Colorless so bad that it would turn off a long-time Murakami reader for good? It’s mostly to do with the main character but there are numerous problems including the plot (or lack thereof) and Murakami’s repetitious writing style. 

The “story”: Tsukuru Tazaki (hereafter TT) was very close friends with four others in high school, two boys, two girls. They all had colours in their name and he didn’t. When he left for university, the others stayed behind. Then when he returned from university on a break he found out his friends had cut him out of the group - he could no longer be their friend. No explanation was given. 

Fast forward 16 years and TT is an engineer who builds train stations. His life is good - he’s got money, he owns his own Tokyo flat, he’s good looking, he’s got a beautiful, smart girlfriend, and he doesn’t have any real problems. Except that he’s never forgotten those friends who dumped him suddenly and, at the prompting of his girlfriend Sara, he seeks them out, one by one, to find out why. 

That has got to be one of the flimsiest plots for a novel - 400 pages long, no less! - that I’ve ever read. If you’re still carrying around this emotional baggage, something that happened to you in high school, for your entire adult life, then you should probably seek professional help. It’s not usual for people to obsess over being dumped by their mates for 16 years and allow it to shape the rest of their lives. 

TT finds out one of the girls in the group accused him of raping her even though he didn’t and she was mentally unstable anyway. Either way, he was excluded from the group and he discovers through one of the others that she was murdered a few years ago, so he’ll never find out why she lied. But why would TT have found out about this now as opposed to at the time of death? Wouldn’t the police, upon finding out that TT was a close friend of hers and was once accused of raping her, have come after him with a few questions? Are we supposed to believe that the Japanese police are all incompetent at their jobs? 

What’s really unforgivable though is how tedious the book is. The plot ambles along with barely any deviation from its set, dull route for the entire 400 page length. Occasionally Murakami will throw in a side-story like TT’s room-mate (apparently the only friend TT was able to make after his core group dumped him) being gay or something, or a weak magical-realist story about some people dying young, but these stories have no impact on the plot at all. They’re just thrown in for no reason and serve only to bore the reader further. One by one TT visits his old friends (bar the dead one) and then the novel’s over. I couldn’t believe how one note it was. 

TT is your average white collar worker. He’s not exceptional - that’s part of the problem - and he’s essentially like anyone else who works an office job. Gets up early, commutes, sits in front of a PC for most of the day, commutes back, tiredness, stress, etc. That’s fine. But we don’t need to read about every little aspect of their day. Murakami strenuously describes all of TT’s uninteresting thoughts/actions/movements in his day which has only one effect: total boredom on the part of the reader. It doesn’t come across as poetical or lyrical writing - it comes across as filler! 

The symbolism is so hackneyed, you wouldn’t believe it was from a writer as acclaimed as Murakami. The whole thing about him being colourless literally plays into him having little or no personality while his occupation of being a builder is tied directly into his name - Tsukuru means “to build” in kanji. And then he sits in train stations while life goes on around him, because that’s what he’s doing, motionless while life passes him by - wow. Did a kid come up with these? And yet Murakami’s writing is praised - yes, even in relation to this book! - while his name is brought up frequently as a potential Nobel Laureate. 

Murakami can now be said to have a distinct style. Most people who haven’t enjoyed Colorless, usually list the other books of his they’ve read, and it’s usually quite a bit. For me it’s 10 and I’ve seen other reviews where people have said they’ve read 10/11/12 of his books and they’ve started noticing certain elements in his storytelling repeat over and over. So 10 seems to be the magic number where the readers notices similar ideas/characters/themes cropping up over and over - which is the case with Colorless. 

His themes of loneliness and isolation in the modern world, the importance of a piece of classical music, the bland main character, the mysterious female love interest, an odd magical realist story, and parallel worlds all appear in Colorless to little or no effect. If you’re anything like me, you saw those elements and thought oh, just like in 1Q84/Wind Up Bird/etc. 

Murakami’s characterisations as a whole are really shoddy. To bring up the oft-cited “show, don’t tell” rule of writing, EVERYTHING in Colorless is told to the reader. We’re told that the five friends had this incredible, close friendship unlike anything else - but we’re never shown it, it’s never once believable. Sara says she loves TT but their love, their entire relationship which is the motivation for the whole book, never once seems remotely real. I know that TT is “colorless” because we’re told that, but really all of the characters are colorless too. Even TT himself seems like a cipher than a character. And while having main characters who are often quite timid to the point of appearing to have no discernible character at all, is a staple of Murakami’s work, he goes too far in this novel to the point where TT disappears entirely into a blank. 

Then we’ve got TT himself, aka King of the Emo Cunts. I say this because he has zero problems in his life but he’s constantly miserable, contemplating suicide, and generally moping about like a sad sack for no reason. No, he’s not clinically depressed or on medication, he’s just another of Murakami’s bland characters, except because he’s so privileged and doesn’t realise it, you hate him more. His dad left him a Tokyo condo, all paid for, he’s good-looking, he works a well-paying job and has a lovely girlfriend - but his name doesn’t have a colour in it so life isn’t worth living! Waaaaaaah! Seriously - somebody smack the taste out of this bitch’s mouth. 

Other reviewers who didn’t like this book have mentioned his past novels like Wind Up Bird, A Wild Sheep Chase, and so on, as if they’re shell-shocked. The writer of those books wrote THIS?! Because he has written good novels, at least as far as I recall, and I would point any potential Murakami readers to those before taking on Colorless. 

Colorless might’ve worked better as a short story - not a good short story but still better. As it is, Colorless is a dreary reading experience and easily Murakami’s worst novel to date. It just feels like he’s out of ideas and has nothing left to say - worse, he doesn’t even seem that bothered to try anything different, he’s happy to keep churning out the same dull nothing over and over. 

So long, Murakami, it was fun for a few books at least - but not this one!

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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