A Wild Sheep Chase
by Devarsi Ghosh
I finished the book exactly four hours ago, after which I wrote two severely soul-sucking articles on top ten Brazilian nightspots and shopping complexes, and so the details are a little fuzzy. My first reaction upon finishing the book was an intense “What the fuck did I just read?”. Since then, that feeling has been subsiding bit by bit. All I can say at this moment, with the book beside the keyboard and my eyes on the cover, is that this is one special book – one of my most magnificent reads ever, as magnificent as the mutant sheep with the star-shaped birthmark in this novel that can ‘enter’ people and control their minds. Yes.
But that’s not all the weirdness of this book. We have here a protagonist who runs a small advertising business, just as cool and jaded as the guy from Norwegian Wood (the only other fictional work of Murakami that I’ve read) but funnier, who loses his wife to his friend (who plays better guitar than him) and then gets morbidly attracted to a picture of ‘ears’. He seeks out the owner of these ‘ears’, and after he finds her, they start dating. The girl is also a bit of a clairvoyant quite possibly because of her magic ears.
Anyway, our protagonist suddenly encounters a strange man in a suit who gives him an assignment to hunt for a particular sheep from a photograph, the one I talked about earlier, and if he fails to find it in a month, he and his business are done for. So he goes out on the search for this one sheep with his girlfriend, and things get weirder and weirder ultimately culminating in, shall I say, a soulful conclusion.
I loved reading it. So much so that I completed it in less than a day in three sittings between which I took two solid power naps. After I finished it, I couldn’t really make head or tail of the plot but I knew I loved it – because of its delicious writing – almost intoxicating, it lures you in and grips each and every one of your nerve and just doesn’t let you go. If not for anything else, the book should simply be read for its beautiful writing; Murakami describes ‘silence’ in at least fifteen different ways in the book, each as vivid, unique and completely original as the other.
Then there’s the philosophical, metaphysical musing. I particularly liked:
“Whether you take the doughnut hole as a blank space or as an entity unto itself is a purely metaphysical question and does not affect the taste of the doughnut one bit.”
And the last line of the second paragraph (I have to quote both the paragraphs here or it will seem out of context, the context being a dream the protagonist sees where a cow asks for a pair of pliers):
“There are symbolic dreams – dreams that symbolize some reality. Then there are symbolic realities – realities that symbolize a dream. Symbols are what you might call the honorary town councilors of the worm universe. In the worm universe, there is nothing unusual about a dairy cow seeking a pair of pliers. A cow is bound to get her pliers sometime. It has nothing to do with me.
Yet the fact that the cow chose me to obtain her pliers changes everything. This plunges me into a whole universe of alternative considerations. And in this universe of alternative considerations, the major problem is that everything becomes protracted and complex. I ask the cow, “Why do you want the pliers?” And the cow answers, “I’m really hungry.” So I ask, “Why do you need pliers if you’re hungry?” The cow answers, “To attach them to the branches of the peach tree.” I ask, “Why a peach tree?” To which the cow replies, “Well that’s why I traded away my fan, isn’t it?” And so on and so forth. The thing is never resolved, I begin to resent the cow, and the cow to resent me. That’s a worm’s eye view of its universe. The only way to get out of that worm universe is to dream another symbolic dream.”
The book is filled with stuff like this. Existential navel-gazing. There are rich, strong, impressionist descriptions of physical phenomena as poetically profound as rain and snowfall to something as commonplace as cigarette smoke disappearing into thin air. Many people claim the book is an allegory and is symbolic of a number of things. I don’t care much about what other people say. The book is beautiful for what it is and to me it is a story of a man’s physical and emotional journey more than anything else (sheep, ears, rats, secret organizations etc.). Highly recommended. I am unsure of whether to read Dance, Dance, Dance after this, which is its immediate sequel or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which is supposedly ten times weirder. I have a strong itch for the latter.