After selling more than one million copies in its first week of publication in Japan in April 2013, ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ by Haruki Murakami has been one of the most highly anticipated novels of the year arriving in bookshops in the UK earlier this month. It tells the story of Tsukuru Tazaki who had four friends in high school whose names all coincidentally contained a colour: Akamatsu (‘red pine’), Oumi (‘blue sea’), Shirane (‘white root’) and Kurono (‘black field’). During his second year of university, Tsukuru’s friends announce without warning that they no longer want to see him or talk to him ever again and refuse to tell him why. Now in his mid-thirties, Tsukuru meets Sara who thinks he should finally come to terms with what happened and find out why he was suddenly shut out by his friends all those years ago.
Murakami’s shorter novels such as ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’ are generally his most accessible works and ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ is no exception. The title is a bit of a mouthful but at just under 300 pages in length, it is a more focused and contained novel compared with ‘1Q84‘ whose succinct title contrasts heavily with its sprawling 900 page love story of Tengo and Aomame. Those who found ‘1Q84’ too self-indulgent (and even those who didn’t) may well consider ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ to be a return to form for Murakami.
Although there is plenty of ambiguity in the story, particularly in Tsukuru’s dreams, the novel is generally more straightforward with fewer elements of surrealism compared with much of Murakami’s other work. Nevertheless, despite the toned down magical realism, it’s classic Murakami in terms of themes and motifs apart from the notable absence of talking cats. The ‘Years of Pilgrimage’ in the title derives from Franz Liszt’s suite of the same name which is a recurring feature throughout the story. Distant, young and a bit nerdy, the character of Tsukuru is a fairly typical Murakami creation and the ending is characteristically inconclusive.
And yet while ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki’ and His Years of Pilgrimage’ doesn’t diverge much from the atmosphere of his previous novels, Murakami somehow remains always inventive and never predictable. His fans will certainly devour his latest work which is just as intimate and intriguing as all of his other novels, but maybe a little less strange overall.