Reading this Murakami novel was quite a Murakami-esque experience: asked by a friend, who shares a love of the writer’s novels, if I had heard of this one that he found in a second hand shop…I answered “no” and he leant it to me once he had finished with it. I read the blurb and the first 60 or 70 pages before I realised that I had read it before, but that I could not remember anything about it. Which is distinctly odd for a Murakami novel, they are generally memorably weird, inhabiting their own slightly off-kilter universe.
All of which sort of says everything and nothing about the book: given who the author is, it is better than most other novels out there, but, it is not one of his best. It is in fact quite unmemorable, while not at all being a remotely bad read. It just passes through without leaving any residue. Nothing to show it was here.
The titular Tazaki is in his mid-30s, living a modestly successful life as an engineer in Tokyo, who specialises in building railway stations. It is all he has ever wanted to do. He has just started a new relationship. He lives in an apartment that was left to him when his dad died – he was a moderately successful estate agent. The main conflict in Tazaki’s life stems from an incident 15 years ago, when he was part of a 5-strong school gang. The others suddenly cut him off when he left their home town to go to University. There has never been an explanation for this. His new girlfriend Sara, convinces him that he must track them down, and speak with them to get an understanding of what happened, what their reasons were and perhaps he can then get on with the rest of his life. This quest, amongst other more mundane episodes, takes him to Finland.
There is nothing wrong with this book. It is enjoyable and well-written. And if you were to ask me in five years if I had ever read it, I would probably say no.