Issue 3, Semester 1, 2019
A Wild Sheep Chase, like several of Murakami’s other novels, defies any attempts to place it in a particular genre or category of fiction. The book deftly weaves from detective mystery to political thriller to magical realism to postmodernism, all without skipping a beat or sidelining its main tale. The novel follows our unnamed protagonist, a divorce advertising executive, as he tries to uncover the mystery surrounding a supposedly magical sheep, and its connections to the power wielded by Japan’s post-war political and corporate elite. In its allusions to historical and political events placed alongside the fantastical and bizarre, it is most reminiscent of the genre of magical realism.
Without spoiling too much, the plot is sparked by a photo of a sheep in a pastoral landscape. After the protagonist publishes this photo in an advertisement, mysterious figures wielding immense political and economic power enlist the protagonist to find this sheep, or face the total ruin of his life and everything within it.
Murakami’s translated text reads in a way that is both simple to understand but also contains a certain beauty in his descriptions of urban 1970s Tokyo, juxtaposed with the mountainous landscape the protagonist finds himself in as the book progresses. Its characters are a quirky bunch; they include an offbeat professor obsessed with sheep, the protagonist’s girlfriend, who is possessed of magically perceptive and seductive ears, and a fast-talking manic-depressive in a sheep costume. Events that on their face may seem mundane are made genuinely entertaining and interesting by the dry wit and black humour found throughout the novel. As the protagonist sets out into the mountains of Hokkaido, what initially appears to be a noir-esque detective mystery gradually develops into a dreamlike, magical tale where the reader is invited to draw their own conclusions as to what is real and what is a figment of the protagonist’s mind (or if this distinction even matters at all).
Ultimately, A Wild Sheep Chase is a good book that’s well worth your time. It is one of those novels that functions both as an entertaining casual read for the time-poor student in need of something to absorb themselves in outside of their law books, and for someone who desires to uncover layers of meaning and subtext when reading. Whatever your reading proclivities, you’ll find something to enjoy in Murakami’s quirky tale.
Sam is a Third Year JD Student, and the Sub-Editor of De Minimis
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