Review: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

20 Books of Summer 2022: Book 5

A Wild Sheep Chase is the second book I’ve read by Haruki Murakami, and once again I’m struggling with a review. This book is considerably stranger than After Dark, even if it’s easier to summarize. A Wild Sheep Chase follows an unnamed narrator after he uses a friend’s photo in a print advertisement. This photo includes a sheep with a star on its back, and the star is soon noticed by people searching for this particular sheep. They hire the narrator for an all-expense-paid quest to find the sheep in a month’s time. Or else.

A Wild Sheep Chase has that dreamlike quality of making sense in the moment and making no sense at all when you recount the details later. The quest for the sheep occurs in something close enough to the real world, but the sheep itself is surreal. The reason for the narrator’s quest is that this sheep used to inhabit a major right-wing figure called “the Boss” who, on the brink of death, needs the sheep to save his life. Along the way, the narrator meets other people who the sheep inhabited for a period of time, but no one can make sense of what the sheep is or what it wants:

The Sheep Professor picked up the photograph from the desk and gave it a flick of his fingers. “It has roamed all over Japan to search out a new host. To the sheep that would probably mean a new person to put on top of the organization by one scheme or another.”
“And what is the sheep seeking?”
“As I said before, I can’t express that in words with any precision. What the sheep seeks is the embodiment of sheep thought.”
“Is that good?”
“To the sheep’s thinking, of course it’s good.”
“And to yours?”
“I don’t know,” said the old man. “I really don’t know. Ever since the sheep departed, I can’t tell how much is really me and how much the shadow of the sheep.” (224-225)

Events are strung together in a coincidental way with very little seeming to happen with intention. I’m not usually a fan of overly passive narrators, but this narrator’s passivity makes the book more interesting. He goes along with all scenarios and suggestions as if he’s in an improv act—saying “yes, and” to everything—which allows the book to shuffle all the way to its offbeat conclusion. I know this review is vague, but I’ve said a lot by even mentioning the sheep. The pacing is slow, and the language is pretty; to borrow the old cliché: It’s about the journey, not the destination. You shouldn’t know too much about the plot before embarking.

Even though the ending ties off all ends, it’s pretty open in other aspects, and can be interpreted any number of ways. Whether it’s an “enjoyable read” might hinge more on the person reading it and how they’re feeling at the time. I’d have hated this book if it were assigned for class—its slowness would have grated on me when paired with a deadline, and I’d have needed to be confident enough about the symbolism to write an essay. As “just a blogger,” I can say that I don’t have a definitive answer as to what it all means, and that this is a good book to read when mildly bored in the middle of the summer. When bored, there’s a lower bar—like, “Murakami’s really going to describe this person’s ears for multiple pages because they have secret powers; sure, that’s fine.” (The ears are a whole thing. They’re harder to describe than the sheep and I don’t pretend to understand the sheep. There’s also a decrepit cat.)

Overall: 4.4 (out of 5.0) Even though A Wild Sheep Chase is about the meandering, I wouldn’t have minded if it were a little quicker to the point, and a little more concrete upon getting there. All that said, I appreciate when a book leans into its absurdity; if a book is going to be weird, then I want it to be weird. I appreciate Murakami’s commitment to the sheep.

Note: This book is actually part of the “Trilogy of the Rat,” though there’s no indication on the front or back cover. Other reviewers say it’s not necessary to read the other books first, but given that the Rat has a larger role in the story than simply sending the narrator a photo of the sheep, I wouldn’t have minded knowing more about him. However, I’m not so interested that I’d pick up another two books to find out. I didn’t find out it was part of a trilogy until I was about halfway through, and it hadn’t occurred to me that there might have been previous books.

20 Books of Summer 2022

Previously on

  1. A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
  2. The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
  3. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  4. Sphere by Michael Crichton

Read, review coming soon

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  2. The Appointment by Herta Müller
  3. Dune by Frank Herbert
  4. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

Currently reading

  1. Burmese Days by George Orwell
  2. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  3. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
  4. Super-Cannes by J.G. Ballard
  5. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Unread, review coming later

  1. Human Acts by Han Kang
  2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  4. The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi
  5. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  6. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Image credit: Goodreads

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