Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Murakami is unequivocally one of Japan's greatest writers. Our blessing is we get to read and enjoy more books from his pen.

Reading this latest, after IQ84, I found it a collaborative set of vignettes rather than a heavyweight excursion into fusing a neon Tokyo with a fantastical element driven by the mind of a quasi-religious cult. In some respects, though Murakami's authorship is far more heavyweight, IQ84 was similar in construct to that great fantasy author, Charles De Lint. Both writers choose to bridge the twilight between the modern world of reality and the mythological one, where faerie lurks in the shadows. In this latest novel, color is the theme, misunderstanding borne of well-intentioned aspirations the vehicle for the narrative that is Tsukuru.

Our serious, overly analytic - clearly introverted - railway station engineer has emerged from the nihilistic state brought on by his social exclusion from his childhood "Famous Five" (an inadvertent nod to Enid Blyton) to seek answers to why his four friends - Kei Akamatsu, Yoshio Oumi, Yuzuki Shirane, and Eri Kurono - shunned him completely and absolutely for the past twenty years. His developing relationship with Sara leads this understanding lover to advise him that he must come to terms with this event, triggering a series of meetings with them that leads to conclusion, understanding, rehabilitation, and continuity. He is a protagonist who seeks to change from merely being "middling, pallid, lacking in color."

Tsukuru travels from the showrooms of Lexus to the pottery rooms of Finland as he tracks down his four former friends and seeks understanding - but curiously, not forgiveness either given or received. As he reflects "they are still stuck to me. Probably more tightly than Sara can ever imagine." The five of them were "a perfect combination... like five fingers". As ever, with Murakami, there is a series of segues (or anecdotal vignettes) inside the novel.  These surface in the form of Tsukuru's relationship with Fumiaki Haida. Formed in a swimming pool it moves through the notes of Liszt's suite "Years of Pilgrimage", the music proving the link to both Shirane and to the necessary fantasy that Haida tells of his father when both he and Tsukuru discuss death. Inside this philosophical fantasy there is a brush with the concept of being a "Soul-Eater" wrapped in the macabre setting of that most potential of settings - a hotel. In the end, both the story and Haida prove as ephemeral as the music of Liszt.

As we track Tsukuri around Japan and Finland, our burgeoning understanding leads to a realization that there is a clear temptation in this novel to delve deeply into the morality of accusing a person falsely of rape, but Murakami wisely sidesteps this minefield. It remains a disturbing, unanswered shadow over the colours of the novel. Murakami ends on a moment, rather than a satisfying conclusion, as is his literary wont, and, as a reader, we are left scrambling to find messages and satisfaction in the hypnotic words scattered before us. Two stand out: "You can hide memories, suppress them, but you can't erase the history that produced them... If nothing else, you need to remember that. You can't erase history, or change it. It would be like destroying yourself." and, "One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance with a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the true root of harmony."

Yet... there are more... and time skips serenely past as you immerse yourself in the faultless words of a master storyteller.

9/10 Time skips serenely past as you immerse yourself in the faultless words of a master storyteller

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