A strange star marked sheep, like none that has ever existed before, takes possession of people’s minds in order to control the flow of social and political power in the world and a young, unassuming translator has one month to find it without knowing where to start looking. Yes, we’re in Haruki Murakami territory now, with A Wild Sheep Chase, the third novel in Murakami’s The Trilogy of the Rat and the first Murakami novel to attract the world’s rapt attention.
While A Wild Sheep Chase is not in the same league of life-altering brilliance that is Kafka on the Shore (2002), or the Wind Up Bird Chronicle (1995), for a young novelist who is just hitting his stride it is an altogether remarkable book.
A Wild Sheep Chase has all of the hallmarks of Murakami’s celebrated style – sparse prose conveying impossibly rich understanding of the world and things beyond it, a simple and strange tale with an eerie sense of the surreal blending seamlessly into ordinary everyday experience. The first two novels of The Trilogy of the Rat, Hear the Wind Sing (1979) and Pinball, 1973 (1980), novellas really, have none of this magic realism quality, though there is a hint of metaphysical strangeness in Pinball, 1973. A Wild Sheep Chase takes it to the next level with the still unnamed protagonist, receiving a letter and a photo from his estranged friend, The Rat which leads him into the bizarre world of this mind possessing sheep and the trail of broken men the curious ovine has left behind. A Wild Sheep Chase also has a much stronger sense of plot than the previous novels in the series and feels somewhat life a detective novel as we follow a tale of an ordinary person questing for extraordinary things, a scenario repeated in many of Murakami’s later works.
It’s easy to get caught up in trying to figure out a deeper meaning in the novel, a symbol or an allegory. Perhaps there is one. Perhaps I don’t know enough about Japanese agricultural settlement, social development and involvement in World War II to fully understand it. Or perhaps there isn’t. Follow the story through this bizarre world where impossible coincidences and the uncanny makes perfect sense, accept the bizarre at face value and A Wild Sheep Chase is an endlessly rewarding read that will have you thinking long after the last page is turned.