Book review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage was our book club book this month. It’s not the first time we’ve had Murakami on there, but the last Murakami we read was quite a long time ago, so I was glad to see another one.

This book is one of his less-surreal offerings, it’s very much in the same flavour as Sputnik Sweetheart or Norwegian words, is if you liked those, you’ll probably like this. However, I wouldn’t read all three close together as they are quite similar and you might find it a bit annoying.

Tsukuru, our central character, is a 36-year-old railway designer who is still struggling to come to terms with a traumatic event from his past: when he was a young adult, his four best friends cut him out of their lives are seemingly no reason and he’s never been able to understand why or form close bonds since. The story involves him seeking to unravel what happened and understand what this means for him.

Having had a similar experience in my 20s,and being pretty much the same age as him now, I identified quite strongly with Tsukuru and the things he was feeling and experiencing, although the way our own situations happened was very different, with very different reasons. In fact, whilst I was intrigued by his narrative and wanted to know what happened, when I, it was a real disappointment. Not because it didn’t make narrative sense, just because Murakami had resorted to perpetuating a particular stereotype that he really shouldn’t have. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoiling one of the key plot points of the novel!

The quality of writing in this book is incredibly varied. The description of Tsukuru’s inner life, his feelings and thoughts is incredibly well realised and touching and there was much to identify with. However, there were other parts where description and dialogue were incredibly clunky. The dialogue from most characters felt artificial and weird. At the book group, we were undecided whether or not this was deliberate on Murakami’s part. We didn’t know whether he was using bad dialogue to help us to understand something about the characters, whether it was a case of poor translation, or whether he simply can’t write dialogue at all. Either way, for some of the group, this was quite offputting and took them out of the novel. For me,
it wasn’t a dealbreaker, but it was quite jarring.

Overall, however, I enjoyed the book. I resonated strongly with the character, and with some of the themes. There were other aspects that were quite alien and distant to me, but it was interesting to read about and learn about those. Some people might find this novel is bit navelgazing or uneventful. If you prefer a very plotty, event filled narrative, you probably won’t like it. If, like me, you enjoy reading contemporary fiction and character-focused works, you might find this up your street.

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