Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami
2014 (English translation)

This is the third Murakami novel that I’ve read, and it may say more about me than him that this book, the one that the critics like least, is the one that I like best.

I didn’t care much for 1Q84. I thought that its central “love” story was too slight and too conventional.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed Kafka on the Shore, which successfully combined surreal fantasy with a deep understanding of human character.

Colorless has much less surrealism, much less fantasy, but an even deeper investigation of character. The eponymous protagonist struggles, often fitfully, to rise above the fate predicted by his name.

Unlike almost all of the other characters, Tsukuru is, literally, colourless. While the ideograms that express the names of his friends are colours, Tsukuru has no colour. His name means “creator,” or in his case, “builder,” and he is, indeed, an engineer who designs and supervises the building of railroad stations.

The trouble is that he never travels on the trains that visit his stations. At the start of the novel, not only has he never left Japan, he’s never visited even the nearest towns and cities served by “his” trains.

It’s hard to summarize the action of the novel without giving away the book’s central secrets, but that’s ok, because this is a book about thought, about emotion and attitude, much more than it is about story. Indeed, reading the novel all the way to the end reveals just how little the outcomes of the plotlines matter to the author.

Instead, we are drawn deeper and deeper into the interior of Tsukuru, to emotional places that he hasn’t visited in a long time, and to psychological locations that may or may not exist at all.

As always, Murakami excels at depicting these inner states, and the central axis of the novel is Tsukuru’s slow creep toward a clear, or at least clearer, view of his character, of the life he leads, and of the possibilities and limitations of life itself.

While some critics have found this interior journey tedious, I was absorbed throughout. Much more than 1Q84 or Kafka, Colorless is a conventional kind of novel, exploring the ordinary with clarity and compassion, but with fewer of Murakami’s usual tricks.

It appears that I prefer my novels that way.

 

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