This interesting novel has many strengths, but it seems less than the sum of its parts. It reminds me strongly of ‘Norwegian Wood’, devoured years ago. Since then, I have read several books by this author who manages to keep a balance between being popular and being artistic.
However, in this novel there seems to be a sadness and a violence which show that the years of marathons and writing have exacted a certain toll on Murakami. The hero is an engineer, involved in the maintenance of the Japanese railway network. He has been wrongly accused of a serious crime and is stuck in the past. Outwardly successful, the diffident man does seem to be a trainspotter with an affection for music. He is brave, but his bravery is undermined by terrible dreams and feelings of guilt. He is appreciative of women, but he is too interested in what they look like. He cannot comprehend why his former friends did not stick with him and it doesn’t seem to occur to him that maybe they were not so special in the first instance.
In short, Tazaki is a bit like Harry Angstrom. However, John Updike’s character was more appealing, more interesting, more at ease with himself, guiltier, and less of a victim. The Murakami novel has the weakness of its main character; it attracts considerable sympathy without attracting great admiration.There is something of the self-help book about this piece of creative writing. Its focus on the individual is combined with quite an uncritical attitude towards wider society. All its impressive techniques cannot compensate for this unfortunate limitation. When the reader is taken to Scandinavia, which seems not to be to the taste of the main character, it is hard not to think about the Nobel Prize. If Murakami had won it by now, would his work be the same?