A Wild Sheep Chase

A Wild Sheep Chase

Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase follows the journey of an unnamed narrator as he travels from Tokyo to Hokkaido in search of his friend and a peculiar sheep.

Some things are forgotten, some things disappear, some things die.

A Wild Sheep Chase is the third novel by Haruki Murakami. Opening with an unnamed narrator, the protagonist gives us an introduction into his life: aged twenty-nine, newly-divorced, part-owner of an advertising agency, with a bewitching girlfriend whose ears are supposedly the stuff of legend. Through these first few chapters, Murakami writes of a life firmly in the norm, but all that changes with a strange encounter.

When the narrator uses a photo for an ad campaign, sent by a friend and featuring a herd of sheep, he is visited by a well-dressed man who seems to have an air of authority. The man demands that the photo be removed from publication and sets the narrator a task: to find a particular sheep from the image, one that is distinct in appearance due to the star-shaped mark on its back. The request comes on behalf of the visitor’s wealthy and powerful employer, a man simply called ‘The Boss’ who seems to have some connection with the sheep. Accompanied by his girlfriend, the narrator then goes on a ‘wild sheep chase’, journeying to Hokkaido to locate the sender of the photograph and, in turn, the sheep itself.

Murakami’s unique themes and blend of the surreal with the everyday, makes this a novel that is hard to put down. A true feat, he is able to create realistic characters which resonate with the reader while throwing in a plot that is so tangential that it could go in any direction. The narrative plays out like the strangest detective story you are ever likely to come across, one, it could be argued, that doesn’t provide all the answers but leaves the reader developing their own interpretations. The book contains topics of a sexual nature and, much like most of Murakami’s work, isn’t appropriate for younger readers. Captivating and in a class of its own, A Wild Sheep Chase is a must-read, especially for those ready to embrace its stray from the conventional.

All of the central characters are either unnamed or nicknamed. What did you think of the absence of names in the novel?

Murakami has a tendency to pick out unusual features in his writing such as the ears of the narrator’s girlfriend in A Wild Sheep Chase. Why is this considered an abnormal feature to focus on and what effect does this have on your perception of the characters and in particular the narrator?

A character who has prominence in A Wild Sheep Chase is the narrator’s girlfriend, acting as his sole companion for most of the novel. When first introduced to her, we learn that she earns an income from working in several professions: as a proof-reader, ear model and prostitute. Why do you think Murakami chose to give the character these attributes and what do they suggest about her? The role of a prostitute is often portrayed with negative connotations; how does Murakami choose to portray it?

At the end of the novel, the narrator is found weeping on a beach with not much reason given. What do you think is the cause of the narrator’s emotional outburst and why do you think Murakami chose this as an ending to the novel?

The sheep is a feature that remains shrouded in much mystery. What did you interpret the sheep to be and do you think it is symbolic of something?

What did you personally believe the strengths of the novel to be and do you think it has any weaknesses?

Do you think Murakami’s writing has any obvious comparisons? If so, to whose and why?

How does Murakami alter landscape and imagery throughout the novel and what effect does this have?

A-Wild-Sheep-Chase-Discussion-Questions.pdf

Both the narrator and his girlfriend journey to the Rat’s summer house, the location that the Rat indicated he would be at in his last letter. Despite this, the house is seemingly empty, so they settle in, planning to stay in the hope that the Rat will return.

After their first night at the property, the narrator’s girlfriend disappears and so he finds himself alone. In a strange turn of events, the narrator starts to receive visits from a man in the most peculiar attire: a sheep costume. This ‘Sheep Man’ has a unique speech pattern and appears apprehensive in revealing any details regarding the Rat or the narrator’s girlfriend.

Several days later the Sheep Man is sat in the living room when the narrator notices that he gives off no reflection in the mirror, this leads him to believe that the Sheep Man is some sort of spectral being or a figment of his imagination. He shares this revelation with the Sheep Man, demanding that he will see the Rat tonight. That night the Rat appears. The two sit, drink and talk. However, the narrator has his suspicions, which are ultimately proven true: he is talking to a ghost. The Rat’s ghost informs the narrator of his demise which occurred a week before his arrival. The Rat committed suicide by hanging, an act he felt he had to perform to prevent the sheep from taking control of his body and carrying out its evil intentions.

The disappearance of the narrator’s girlfriend is revealed to be the Rat’s doing but her fate is left unknown. The Rat also suggests that the Sheep Man is an alternate form of himself. He then departs after sharing with the narrator a premonition: tomorrow he will meet the visitor who first sent him on the task.

The next day the narrator leaves the house, making his way back down the mountain. En route, he sees the boss’s subordinate (as foretold by the Rat). He informs the narrator that he knew of this location all along and praises him on his work before handing over a sizeable cheque. The two then part ways, with his previous employer heading towards the Rat’s house.

The novel ends as the narrator journeys to pay a visit to an old friend, J, a bar owner who was well acquainted with the Rat. He uses his new wealth to help finance J’s plans for a new bar. Then taking a stroll on the nearby beach, he weeps.

A Wild Sheep Chase is considered part of Murakami’s The Rat Trilogy following on from his first two works: Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball 1973. The books are considered a trilogy due to the recurrence of characters, but there is no continuation of narrative. Murakami has mixed feelings towards his first two works, he described them as ‘immature’ in an interview for the Paris Review in 2004 and was against their translation until 2015.

Along with his huge success with his own novels, Murakami has also worked as a translator, adapting English works into Japanese.

Along with several prestigious awards from his native Japan, Murakami has been the recipient of numerous awards from around the globe, including the World Fantasy Award, the Hans Christian Anderson Literature Award, and the Franz Kafka Prize.

 

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#murakamimarathon is underway with the completion of "A Wild Sheep Chase" – the first of Murakami's novels translated into English despite the fact that it's the third part of his original trilogy. It'd been a long time since I'd read this one and it was a true joy to revisit. It has all the things that I'd associate so closely with Haruki's future work cats, musical references, cans of shaving cream and women with beautiful ears. My flatmate is also a fan of Murakami's work and it's been nice to have someone to chat with about what the appeal of his writing is – it's not easy to put into words other than to say that Murakami-San's use of Words and the thoughts he gives his characters often feel as if he's pulled them directly from my own mind. I feel comfortable with his protagonists as they don't feel so different from myself, and I love the female characters H.M creates. Another topic of discussion is who is the best Women in his novels – I'm interested to find out myself, and the girl with the beautiful ears was a nice place to start. 😃😆🤔 Speaking of awesome women – the iced coffee is by the awesome crew @beannie_cafe – I haven't paid enough attention to their ears, but I'm sure they are as lovely as their coffees 😂😉 . . . . . #harukimurakami #murakamist #awildsheepchase #booklover #bookworm #coffee #coffeelover

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