Weekend Review Kit loves to read. But as we get older we don’t have all the time we’d like to spend with the books on our Must Read List. We can’t remember the last time we read a book the week it came out, even if we did pre-order the thing and take a picture when it arrived because a new book is an excellent reason to get excited. With that in mind, we bring you the Grownups Book Review Club, because we’ve been busy and we just finished it, goddammit. We’re going to try and look at newish books, but every now and then we’ll dive into our bookshelf to cross something of the list of Books We Really Want To Read When This Kid Is Finally Out of our Hair and We Don’t Fall Asleep Watching Project Runway.
This week we’ll be discussing Haruki Murakami’s newest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
When we first meet Tsukuru Tazaki he is nearly 20 years old and thinks only of suicide. He has lost the four friends who gave his life meaning, with whom he felt he had formed a bond so pure it transcended gender and desire and could never be broken.
Well, he has not lost them. He knows that they remain in his hometown while he studies engineering in Tokyo. But Aka, Ao, Shiro, and Kuro have made it clear that they want nothing to do with him anymore, that he is to make no attempt to contact them. They give him no explanation other than “think about it, and you’ll figure it out.” Tsukuru never really attempts to get an answer either. He accepts their decision as proof that he is a man without much to offer. He is colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Whatever their reasons, they are most likely justified.
In the 16 years following his exile Tsukuru lives a life of quiet regularity. He fulfills his dream of becoming an engineer, maintains a job in Tokyo, and has a few girlfriends, though none of his relationships ever really come close to replicating what he had in high school with his four colorful friends (each of their names represents a color, while Tsukuru’s name means “to make or build.”)
Until he starts dating Sara. Exactly what he likes about Sara is unclear, though he does appreciate the way she dresses. What is clear is that he is overcome with longing for her. So when she insists that for their relationship to progress he must resolve the issues of his past, Tsukuru agrees to reconnect with each of his friends to find out why he was cut off so suddenly.
This leads Tsukuru on a journey that proves to be not just an examination of what happened between the five of them, but of how they really felt about each other. As he visits with each friend he sees himself through their eyes for the first time. Though he can no longer reach Shiro, the one he secretly desired.
For fans (and detractors) there’s the usual bingo card checklist: Detailed descriptions of how one woman’s breasts relate to another’s. Possibly having ejaculated into someone but also possibly not having ejaculated into someone. Long, sometimes complex metaphors that wind like a local subway train at rush hour through their regular stations, letting out a few weary passengers at each stop and taking in a few more, before finally arriving at their ultimate destination. It’s a Murakami novel, after all.
I am not a detractor. What I like about Murakami is his attempt to bring art and honesty to the question of male sexuality and desire. Tsukuru agonizes over the explicit dreams he has involving Shiro and Kuro. To have them violates one of the unwritten rules of the group. But they are beyond his control. So what does it mean, then, to have these thoughts? What effect do they have on the object of his desire? How responsible is he for the effects of thoughts he wishes he did not have?
I can’t help feeling that, despite all his fantasies and creepy reimaginings of the strangulation of a woman he once subconsciously longed for, Tzukuru is a man lost without a woman to give him purpose. His father is largely absent from his life. During his summer of despair following his expulsion from the group, it is his sister and mother who notice and take an interest in his revival. He’s gone 16 years without making any attempt to understand why he was cut off, until his new girlfriend tells him he has to if he wants to have any more sex.
Unlike Murakami’s previous novel, 1Q84, however, the female characters in this book are barely there, and this serves to heighten Tsukuru’s isloation. Without Shiro to explain her story, the reader is left with only a confused narrator trying to understand his relationship with a woman who will always remain silent. We are never sure what, exactly, happened to Shiro and have no idea why.
While it is easy to focus on the unresolved mystery surrounding Shiro’s death, the book is full of answers to questions Tsukuru never thought to ask. He is surprised to learn that he was once the object of Kuro’s affection, and that another one of his friends is gay. By trying in vain to deny his own desires, he had failed to imagine those of his only friends, leaving him disconnected, floating, adrift.
When we leave Tsukuru Tazaki he thinks he will propose to Sara, if she will agree to go out with him again. If not, he is sure he will die, literally, this time. Though many things still remain out of reach for Tsukuru Tazaki, he is clear about one thing: he is capable of believing in something once more, and what he believes in is his desire for another person. He longs to feel connected.