Falling more on the Norwegian Wood side of the Murakami colour-wheel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage finds him once again contemplating love and friendship in a fairly straightforward and meditative way.
Tsukuru Tazaki builds railway stations. Hard working and slightly obsessive, he’s found the perfect job. One that rewards him for having an encyclopaedic memory of train lines, a love of busy platforms and a keen eye for the routes passengers take. But he also has a low level of self-worth, having been ostracised from his four best friends from school for more than fifteen years, without knowing why. When they were younger, Tsukuru and his four friends were inseparable. With the exception of Tsukuru, each of their names meant a different colour and this always made him feel like the weak link, the bland and colourless young man in awe of his vibrant friends. This all came to an end when he was effectively locked out of the group and ignored, left to fend for himself after some unanimous decision made while he was away and studying. To make matters worse, the only real friend he made in the years after abruptly left him and never got in contact again. Having locked his feelings away for so many years, his girlfriend pushes him to open up that box and find out what happened all those years ago and where those friends have ended up.
It’s a melancholic story, filled with internal philosophical discussions and a reoccurring psychological undertone as Tsukuru tries to understand the confusing and erotic dreams he has had since leaving his home town. And, like usual, there is a soundtrack that underpins the novel and provides it with a mood with which to hang its characters on. This time Murakami has sidestepped away from jazz to the classical world with Liszt’s mournful and nostalgic Le mal du pays meaning different things at different times in his life.
There are surreal flourishes here and there, but these are mostly relegated to dream sequences and slightly tall tales told by old friends. It’s a novel engrossed in its own thoughts and its core is the notion of self-worth and how that affects your mental state and wellbeing, and the power accusation and guilt can have over someone. Tsukuru has always seen himself as a blank slate – nothing of any interest in comparison to his vibrant friends, but as Tsukuru comes to understand the role he really did play in the friendship, he can begin to come to terms with himself and his relationships.
Overall, if you are a fan of Murakami, you will find yourself sinking into a familiar and comfortable story as you follow Tsukuru’s journey into his past. Although I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this story to readers new to Murakami’s world, I might suggest that they take a look at his earlier work first. That aside, this is an atmospheric novel that doesn’t need to tie everything up in a neat bow – instead content to lead you on a pilgrimage of your own and let you decide.