Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Reading Wednesday 17/08

Recently read: A wild sheep chase by Haruki Murakami, trans Alfred Birnbaum. (c) Haruki Murakami 1982, pub Vintage 2003, ISBN 978-0-099-44877-8. This was a present from ghoti, since it's a book she likes and it contains cute ears and I have very little exposure to Japanese lit. I found the book very mind-expanding and different from most of what I normally read, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I don't want to spend too long wracking my brains over which genre A wild sheep chase fits into, because it's just not like the typical Anglo publishing categories. It's probably most like magical realism, in that the central story about the sheep possessing people appears to be taken entirely seriously, even though it doesn't appear to fit into the otherwise mundane, mimetic setting. I was interested in gradually learning more about the history of this slightly fantastical sheep, but equally interested in getting to know the protagonist along the way, even though he's not a particularly sympathetic POV character.

I found the book extremely vivid in its depictions of banal scenes from everyday life and very ordinary human relationships, against the bizarre background of the eponymous sheep chase. The final section where the protag tracks the sheep down to a remote villa is very evocative, a really good ghost story or psychological horror (though nothing at all gory or monstrous occurs). There's a lot of pages devoted to the protagonist's relationships with women, a lover remembered from his youth, his recently ex wife, and his current girlfriend with the beautiful ears. The relationships are again beautifully observed, but the women themselves don't seem completely real, they exist to evoke feelings in the protag and then disappear. Male characters are also seen through the first person narrator's eyes, but the book contains a lot more information about their lives and experiences outside their interaction with him. I enjoyed the glimpses of the narrator's relationship with Rat and J.

I found the book not exactly depressing, but melancholy, perhaps? Very beautiful writing, but in quite a bleak way.

Currently reading: A time of gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, as recommended to me by [personal profile] rushthatspeaks. Basically it's an account of how the author got kicked out of school and decided to walk across Europe to Constantinople, in 1933. I don't normally read travelogues, but I agree with the intro by Jan Morris, that Fermor is just an outstandingly good writer, and his descriptions are evocative enough to be exciting even though nothing really happens except that he walks around and visits places. He has the kind of assumption typical of a certain class of white English young men, that everybody will basically like him and want to help him out. He's also genuinely interested in the people he meets working on this assumption. In some ways the narrative style is reminding me of my uncle who at a similar sort of age drove a van to Australia.

I've nearly finished the section where he crosses Germany, noting the presence of the newly ascendant Nazi party but not dwelling on that to the exclusion of talking about the history and culture of the country and telling anecdotes about the various German people he meets on the way. The moment where he describes crossing the border from the Netherlands and seeing swastikas everywhere is a brilliant piece of writing, a paragraph of description of some Dutch St Vincent de Paul nuns, and then:
The officials at the Dutch frontier handed back my passport, duly stamped, and soon I was crossing the last furlongs of No Man's Land, with the German frontier post growing nearer through the turning snow. Black, white and red were painted in spirals round the road barrier and soon I could make out the scarlet flag charged with its white disc and its black swastika.

Up next: Not sure. I'm still looking out for A book with a color in the title for my very old Bringing up Burns challenge, or I may well read Novik's Uprooted.

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Tags: book, reading wednesday

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