It was a short one-paragraph item in the morning edition.

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

I got this book because 1) I remembered someone, sometime, mentioning the name “Murakami” as someone they thought I’d like to read and 2) it was cheaper than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (also by Murakami). Two not particularly bad reasons. Also two not particularly wonderful reasons.

Fortunately, I got lucky. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a fine piece of work. A fairly involved, highly inventive story that, as the back of the book would have you believe, is a “marvelous hybrid of mythology and mystery.” Which seems a surprisingly fitting explanation of curious literary porridge that Murakami has cooked up. From the first paragraph, you’re hooked. (I was, anyway.) Murakami concocts a brilliant passage where, for several pages (—ten? twenty? you’d hardly notice—), two of the story’s main characters talk about ears.

Yes, ears.

And it’s one of the best parts of the whole book. It’s subtle without being too ordinary, mysterious without being too cliche or contrived, and philosophical without being in any way condescending, boring, or off-putting. This shows one of the things at which Murakami excels: balancing the normal with the absurd. Some very, very strange things happen in this book. Some unbelievably strange things. Things you’d probably never think of even if you sat in a room for years just thinking of strange things and listing them on paper. But there are also some very ordinary things that happen. Things that just about anyone can relate to. And it’s the way in which these two wholly disparate threads are woven together that make this such a fantastic story (and that make M. such a phenomenal storyteller).

You’ll be cruising along (figuratively), thinking to yourself, ‘well, this isn’t so bad, in fact it’s pretty good.’ Part of the magic is that you don’t even realize how good it is right away. Then it hits you, suddenly.

This story begins very inauspiciously, leading into a series of events that send the narrator on a highly unusual search. To find a sheep. Hence the title. And there’s mystery and adventure (and misadventure) and all kinds of sinuous plot add-ons and complications and thoughtful asides (or whatever you want to call them: distractions, divergences, digressions, etc.), and it’s all great.

After finishing this book and reading some snippets of writing from Murakami (in Vintage Murakami), I’m definitely ready for some more. I guess you could call that a pretty solid recommendation.