A Wild Sheep Chase Summary

Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase

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A Wild Sheep Chase Summary

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The first novel to win Murukami critical acclaim in the West, A Wild Sheep Chase explores themes of separation and isolation, anti-authoritarianism, and animist spirituality through the surreal tale of a man trying to track a mysterious sheep. The story begins in Tokyo with the unnamed narrator learning that an ex-lover has died. He attends the funeral but, despite their previous connection, he can now barely remember her name. When he gets home, his ex-wife is in the house and they talk briefly before she leaves. Once she is gone, the narrator thinks about their past relationship, about how she had an affair with his friend, how the house seems empty without her, and how the breakup was inevitable as they had grown apart.

Later, the narrator is in bed with his girlfriend, whose ears may have special powers and are so beautiful that they inspire lust in men and utterly captivate the narrator, especially during sex. He met her after seeing a picture of her ears at the advertising agency where he works. She says that he will shortly receive a phone call about sheep that will kick off a strange journey; soon after that, he gets a call from his business partner reporting an emergency involving sheep. His partner explains that a man came into the office and demanded that the agency withdraw an advert containing a picture of some sheep. The man works for “the Boss,” a corrupt and shadowy figure involved in politics, business, and organized crime, rumored to be suffering from a brain hemorrhage. The Boss owns the advertising agency so they are forced to withdraw the picture and comply when told that a car is being sent to collect the narrator. When a limo arrives, the narrator is taken to the Boss’s isolated home and meets with the Boss’s personal assistant.

The narrator recalls receiving the photo of the sheep in a letter from “the Rat,” a friend who disappeared years ago, who requested that he use it in an advertisement. However, he refuses to tell the Boss’s assistant this even when threatened. Under the assistant’s direction, he sees that one sheep in the photo has a star on its side. The assistant explains that the Boss is dying;he has been ill for a long time and, during this long, strange illness, he has hallucinated and drawn the starred sheep for many years. The assistant thinks the sheep has somehow been inside the Boss for decades and tells the narrator that he has to find the sheep before the Boss dies. He gives him cash for expenses and tells him to go. Back at the apartment, the narrator tells his girlfriend about the mission to find the sheep, and she decides to accompany him.

They leave for Hokkaido Island and attempt to find the location where the photo was taken but without success. However, even though the narrator’s girlfriend chooses their hotel at random, the owner turns out to have a photo of the same location. He explains that his father,once a sheep researcher called “the Sheep Professor,”lives on the floors above the hotel and may be able to help. The Sheep Professor says the sheep possesses humans, using their bodies to transport it or achieve its goals. It once possessed him but left to inhabit the Boss years ago, giving him the power to build his sinister, underground network. He gives them directions to his old sheep ranch where the photo was taken, and the narrator and his girlfriend leave. When they arrive in the region, the narrator remembers that the Rat’s father had a villa nearby; they get a lift there from a man who manages the local sheep but find the building deserted. They go to sleep and when the narrator wakes up, his girlfriend has left.

On his own now, the narrator explores the area and finds cigarette butts, even though the Rat does not smoke. Finally, a man arrives dressed in a sheep costume. His mannerisms remind the narrator of the Rat but his build is wrong. He denies knowing anything about the starred sheep or the Rat, but the narrator does not believe him. The Sheep Man leaves and the narrator waits in the house for several days. When the Sheep Man returns, he says that he cannot pass a message to the Rat.The narrator declares that he knows that the Rat will return that evening. He goes to sleep, and when he wakes, it is dark and the ghost of the Rat is speaking to him. The Rat explains that he killed himself a week ago after the starred sheep possessed him. because he wanted to trap it and stop its evil plans to interfere with the human world. He convinces the narrator to connect the wires in the villa’s clock, to set the time to 9 a.m., and then leave by 9:30. On the way down the mountain, the narrator meets the Boss’s assistant who says that the Boss died a week ago and reveals that he knew what was happening with the starred sheep. He congratulates the narrator on his part in stopping the sheep and gives him money before setting off for the villa, supposedly because he has an appointment with the Rat. The narrator gets on a train and hears the sounds of the villa being blown up in the distance.The novel ends with the narrator back in Tokyo, weeping beside a river he remembers from his childhood before quietly walking away.

A Wild Sheep Chase is the third book in a trilogy of novels that share characters including the unnamed narrator and his friend the Rat. Despite this, the novel was the first to be truly recognized in the West where it is widely celebrated for combining Japanese and Western influences and blending several genres in a postmodern, surreally-humorous manner.