Haruki Murakami takes us on quite a journey with A Wild Sheep Chase, a journey that’s both physical and metaphysical as the unnamed protagonist makes his way by train from Tokyo to the northern regions of Japan. Dance, Dance, Dance also takes the reader along for the ride up to the same village and the same Dolphin Hotel where the narrator stayed on his first visit. The Dolphin has changed from a flophouse to a much larger stylized hotel much like the evolution of the author’s writing style.
Murakami was in his early thirties when he wrote A Wild Sheep Chase and he was on the cusp of forty when he penned Dance and in between those two books, he wrote Norwegian Wood which turned out to be his first taste of bestseller stardom. It’s evident, over the course of the three books, that Murakami matured as a writer much like his characters and plot lines. There are still the constants of loss, mystery, fantasy and the quest for some kind of life truth that show up time and again in Murakami’s books but, the style has moved from everything all the time to something more subtle and refined that still grabs the reader but in a gentler manner than his earlier works.
The plot in both books includes a genetically modified sheep and the man dressed in the shabby wool sheep outfit that speaks sheep-like bursts of unpunctuated sentences. Talking animals often show up in Murakami’s world quite often and he manages to make these supernatural communications seem very realistic. With the sheep man, Murakami takes things to another level of human-animal communication.
The protagonist also meets up with a former school mate and friend from the past who has turned into a famous actor. This is another common Murakami trait where his characters find a door opening via a new or renewed relationship just as another door closes via a divorce or break up of some kind.
A Wild Sheep Chase was the third in Murakami’s Trilogy of the Rat and Dance, Dance, Dance, though a sequel of sorts to A Wild Sheep Chase isn’t considered a part of the Trilogy because of several additional characters and its noticeable change in tone from the other books.
There’s an excellent scene in Dance where the narrator is questioned for hours by Tokyo detectives about a murder they suspect he committed that harkens back to the hard boiled crime fiction of another era and points toward Murakami’s mastery of a genre that might be called fantasy realism.