Haruki Murakami - Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage (3 stars)

This article is from 2014

Haruki Murakami - Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

credit: Elena Seibert

Welcome addition for fans, but one that never quite reaches the heights it could do

(Harvill Secker)

There aren't many writers whose novel launches can be classed as an event, but Haruki Murakami is one of the few who fit the category. When Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, his 13th novel, launched in Japan last year it sold a million copies in a week. In the UK, the first edition is a beautifully designed hardback, and comes complete with a sticker pack to tailor it.

Being Murakami, the plot is the driving force of the novel, though it is more firmly rooted in the real world than the surrealism that marks much of his work. Tsukuru Tazaki is a railway station designer who grew up in a close group of five friends, each of whom had a colour in their name – except for the titular colourless Tsukuru. One day, out of the blue – as it were – his friends told him they could no longer speak to him. 16 years later, Tsukuru has never worked out why, but is urged to discover the reason by his latest girlfriend.

Tsukuru himself is a likeable and hugely vulnerable character, but at times he is a colourless as the character Murakami set out to create. Whether or not this makes him a successful protagonist is arguable. There are minor gripes with the prose too, such as an irritating repetition of basic facts about the characters and lengthy descriptions of their physical appearances. Whether this is down to Philip Gabriel's translation or Murakami himself, the novel lacks some of the more gripping elements of the great man's oeuvre as a result.

Familiar Murakami symbolism is on show, illustrated through music, food, dreams, and in particular, sex. It explores themes of reconnection, loss, ambition and the fragility of relationships, no matter how strong they may seem. The question asked is: can we truly know ourselves if there are unanswered questions in our past? The conclusion arrives quickly, and with trademark ambiguity. For fans of Murakami, it will be a welcome addition, but much like Tsukuru Tazaki himself, it never quite reaches the heights it could have.

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