“Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning ‘red pine’, and Oumi, ‘blue sea’, while the girls’ names were Shirane, ‘white root’, and Kurono, ‘black field’. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it. One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced that they didn’t want to see him, or talk to him, ever again. Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.”
I fell in love with Haruki Murakami as soon as I opened Norwegian Wood eight years ago, and it’s a love affair that’s carried me through his entire canon. So it was with glee that I started Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (hereby to be known as Colorless; I don’t know how his publishers don’t have RSI from typing all that out repeatedly). I was prepared for a long read; it was a thick, glorious hardback book – not quite as thick as IQ84, an undertaking that took me a week’s holiday to get through, but that justified every minute of reading – but thick enough. So I was surprised that the book was initially much shorter than I thought – I finished it in a matter of hours.
Having read most, if not all, of Murakami’s other books, three things struck me once I’d finished it: that this book seemed more westernised than his previous works (I think this was the first book to feature a European love interest); that this book was more ‘normal’ than most (most Murakami books require a large amount of belief suspension, reading between the lines and a fan of delicate, quirky, and often odd prose – he tends towards downright bizarre and sexual prose, always written in a somehow dispassionate and disconnected manner); and with a more ‘unresolved’ story than most. Though few of Murakami’s books have a finite ending, the protagonist usually reaches some metaphysical or metaphorical conclusion that he finds peace with.
Colorless‘ protagonist, Tsukuru Tazaki, used to enjoy a close relationship with his four best friends – all who have very colourful translated names, whilst his is eponymously colourless – until one day, without any explanation, they abruptly cut him off. It’s an event that drives him to the brink of suicide: without a close family, and with a life that he doesn’t feel quite connected to without his companions, losing his friends impacts on him more than he could ever have predicted. It’s not until years later, when he meets Sara, and shares his story, that he is persuaded to track his old friends down, one by one, and find out what happened all those years ago.
The first three friends he finds now all lead very different, and unconnected, lives. Surprisingly, they all make time to see him – though they are shocked that he has tracked them down – and the reason for their surprise becomes quickly clear: their last friend, Shiro (Shirane), levelled accusations against Tazaki, which was their reason for ostracising him. The disturbing accusations take Tazaki aback, as he is innocent of what Shiro claimed. He wishes to find her and unravel the reasons behind her lies, but she died in a freak accident some years ago. Will Tazaki ever find out what drove Shiro to her accusations, or will Tazaki be besieged by doubts and uncertainty for the rest of his life?
Although Colorless didn’t quite meet my expectations, I still enjoyed it greatly. I would recommend it as a starter novel for those who I think would enjoy Murakami’s works, but who probably aren’t quite ready to start with some of his more surrealistic fiction. It’s still got all of the elements that make Murakami’s books inherently his: exquisitely beautiful prose, extraordinarily accomplished writing, and with an elaborate depth of detail of even the most mundane objects that plunge readers firmly into the sometimes otherworldly worlds of his characters and stories. Murakami, I still love you.