Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

There is a moment in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage where Tsukuru, the eponymous protagonist of the novel, questions whether “all Finns like to make clever witticisms about life?”. Should you only read the first few chapters of the book, you would have to be blind not to see the irony of this remark. Why? Because Murakami’s novel is the living embodiment of “witticism”, existential crisis and at times philosophical BS (just hear me out, I’ll get to this in a little while).

But before I continue it’s worth laying out the basic premise of the novel. Tsukuru is a 36 year old railway station engineer living in Tokyo. He makes a good living pursuing his childhood ambition, but his life is void of meaningful human experience, and he is fixated by the abrupt end of his close-knit high school friendship group more than a decade ago. Their names all contain a colour, all except his; a fact which Tsukuru is obsessed by and often ruminates on. Out of the blue (pun intended) Kei, Yoshio, Yuzuki and Eri cut Tsukuru off, declaring they never want to see or hear from him again. Tsukuru is oblivious as to why until Sara, his love interest, pushes him to find out the truth about what happened in the hopes he can move on with his life.

It is easy to see how Murakami promises intrigue and mystery from the very beginning, but I can’t help but feel disappointed. I have a number of criticisms, not least Tsukuru himself. He is perhaps the most lamenting, limp, whiny, self-disparaging character I have ever come across. I wanted to shake him so hard throughout the novel, mainly out of frustration that he hadn’t moved on or at least tried to in any way whatsoever from what happened. I can only sympathise so far with his situation.

My next criticism is of the dialogue; it never felt real, particularly between Tsukuru and Sara. The word normal does not apply. In fact the more I think about it, the more bizarre I think it is which brings me directly to my next problem with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and that is the unashamed self-indulgent tone that carried through right to the very end. There always seemed to be some philosophical end goal looming over every conversation or passages of self-reflection, to the point where it felt as though profundity (read: philosophical BS) was being forced upon the reader. That is not to say I’m averse to novels eliciting insight, I love it when they do, but my case and point is the anecdote Haida tells about Midorikawa, the mysterious mountain dwelling jazz pianist who spoke to his father about the afterlife, auras and trading death before vanishing. He literally tells the story at random and then they both go to bed. Tell me that is not heavy handed “philosophy” for heavy handed philosophy’s sake.

At this point you may be thinking was there anything good about it? To which my response is that it’s an easy, quick read and the actual plot is quite interesting. So for those of you still willing to give it a go, the good news is that from what I’ve heard the book is a lot like marmite, you could love it…

or you could hate it…


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