By pure chance, I bought both “A Wild Sheep Chase” and “Dance Dance Dance” in HMV during sales on the same day. Also by pure chance, one of my blogger friend, JoV, once dropped a comment here implying that the stories of these two books are linked. So before I headed to my holiday, I frantically researched online on which book comes first. It is “A Wild Sheep Chase” followed by “Dance Dance Dance”. I read Sheep on the plane and Dance during my holiday.
If you are into the literature of Murakami, reading these two books enabled you to witness an important juncture a writer has encountered in his writing career. Sheep is the last of the Rat Trilogy, the only one from the series that the author was comfortable in having it translated into English. Dance was written after he has gained international recognition. Straddled in between is Norwegian Wood that propelled Murakami to the international fame. Now you get the picture.
Sheep is unlike some of the Murakami books I have read. The beginning two-third of the book reads like a detective story. A page-turner with plenty of dialogs. The story involves a main character who takes life as it is, seldom plan or have a dream for anything; an ordinary girl with extraordinary ears and she works in three different jobs at the same time; a professor who is obsessed with sheep; a friend who has disappeared a long time ago suddenly contacted the main character via mails. The story is, for lack of a better word, a wild sheep chase. According to the narrator, sheep was unseen of in the ancient Japan. And like – I suppose – dragons and unicorns (my interpretation) – such creatures could be seen as deities. In the book, there is this notion of sheep-made-man and becomes all powerful or even man-made-sheep that becomes something I am not sure how to put in words. Because of my Catholic root, such notion appears to have a religious reference, especially when Christ according to our tradition is portrayed as the Lamb of God. Interestingly, Sheep has no further exploration on the topic of religion. Only a borrowed image to turn Sheep into a fantasy, and a comedy. I have thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the book even as I might have questioned the literature value within.
The turning point is the last third of the book. I suspect that is also the turning point of Marakami’s writing style. There are more internal dialogs within the main character. The author’s sense of the surrounding has been heightened and sharpened. The plot becomes dream-like – a signature writing style that exhibits in his later books. When the story was ended, I wanted more. As far as the Rat Trilogy is concerned – Rat being the name of the runaway friend – the story has ended. But there are far more open questions left behind. That is when “Dance Dance Dance” comes into the picture.
Unlike Sheep, Dance does not begin each chapter with a title that foretells what is to come; unlike Sheep, Dance does not have the plot progression based on a set of clear and defined clues. In fact, I would describe Dance as a wandering adventure. For a majority of the plot, I have no idea as in where the story is heading, and I doubt if the main character does. The main character (now has a name) is in search of someone he loved (also now has a name). It starts with vivid dreams that lead him back to Dolphin Hotel, a hotel that is featured in Sheep. I can see there are a fair bit of parallelism between the two books. The role of his friend Rat in Sheep is now taken over by his old classmate Gotanda. The hotel, now being rebuilt, is still the center of the story. The symbol of authority has morphed from mafia gang into police force. Some characters from the past have made an appearance in Dance. Dance is still a detective story at the core, but the plot becomes more subtle, more surreal.
The overall mood of Dance is dark. In terms of character development, I in particularly like the relationship between the thirty-odd-year-old main character and a thirteen-year-old girl. It could have gone wrong in so many different ways because knowing Murakami, the topic of sex is always on the table. Fortunately, the author has threaded the moral boundary as close and careful as he can. Majority of the materials turn out to be a good inspiration read for the teenagers, even for adults. Here is an excerpt on a troubled teen regretting on the things she said and done to the one who is now dead. The narrator is the main character of the story.
I pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road and turned off the ignition.
“That’s just stupid, that kind of thinking,” I said, nailing her with my eyes. “Instead of regretting what you did, you could have treated him decently from the beginning. You could’ve tried to be fair. But you didn’t. You don’t even have the right to be sorry.”
Yuki looked at me, shocked and hurt.
“Maybe I’m being too hard on you. But listen, I don’t care what other people do. I don’t want to hear that sort of talk from you. You shouldn’t say things like that lightly, as if saying them is going to solve anything. They don’t stick […] It’s not a question of manners; it’s a question of fairness. That’s something you have to learn.”
Yuki couldn’t respond. She pressed her fingers to her temples and quietly closed her eyes. She almost seemed to have dozed off, but for the slight flutter of her eyelashes, the trembling of the lips. Crying inside, without sobs or tears. Was I expecting too much of a thirteen-year-old girl? Who was I to be so self-righteous? […]
Yuki didn’t move. I reached out and touched her arm.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m very narrow-minded. No, to be fair, you’ve done the best that can be expected.”
A single tear trailed down her cheek and feel on her lap. That was all. Beautiful and noble.
“So what can I do now?” she spoke up a minute later.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just think about what comes before words. You owe that to the dead. As time goes on, you’ll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves most things. And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself. Is that too much to ask?”
“A little,” she said, trying to smile.
“Well, of course it is,” I said, trying to smile too. “[…] Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely. It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies […]”
This is quite a long excerpt. But I like how the two interacted. And there is an important message for us too.
Besides the main character’s relationship with Yuki, I also enjoy reading the love story between Yumiyoshi – the hotel receptionist – and him. I would not go in great detail here. It is equally beautiful that requires patience to appreciate.
In closing, both books are not to be missed and have to be read one after another. Sheep first, then Dance. It is rare to spot an opportunity to witness the turning point of a writer’s career. This is one.