By page 83 of Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage I was thinking, wow! this book is so clever in its story within a story within a story. At that point I was reading about Tsukuru’s friend Haida’s story told to him by his father about an encounter he had as a student with a man about to die who was sort-of reluctantly offering him the chance to take on his ‘token of death’ for the chance to see auras and have a short, but heightened experience.
We had got there with very little effort on the part of the reader and a great deal of lovely plotting: by this point we’d been in and out of three moments in Tsukuru’s life — his teenage past as one fifth of an extraordinary quintet of friends; his early adulthood of ejection from the group, and his slightly later (wonderful and soothing) friendship with the younger student Haida. Much at this point had been made of his relationships with people with colours in their surnames (Red and Blue, White and Black for the high school friends) and even grey for Haida.
Tsukura we are led to believe, is colourless not only in name but also in personality and drive, and yet he is the centre of this book and seems to attract to himself people with colour and desire to include him in their lives. This includes a subsequent girlfriend who pushes him into two journeys — one psychological, the other actual (he’s never really left the two cities he’s always lived in — Tokyo and Nagoya) to discover the reason for his ejection from the idyllic group of five. Her ongoing serious involvement with him depends on him sorting this out, she makes very clear.
What he discovers is shocking (he has been wrongly accused of a rape) but he also learns that his four friends found him deeply attractive in all senses — once he has left the group they cannot hold to each other any longer and they drift apart. The person he has become — the person of the book — is a shade of this discovered earlier character.
This is news to both Tsukuru and the reader! And it’s a fantastic plot twist. But frustratingly Tsukuru decides to do nothing with it. Tsukuru doesn’t revise his earlier opinion of himself (he remains convinced that he is a person people just leave because he has no gravitational pull). Tsukuru doesn’t plan to keep in touch with the three surviving friends he has had extremely positive encounters with (he says goodbye to each one knowing he will never see them again). Tsukuru doesn’t plan to find his Mr Grey — Haida had also mysteriously disappeared from his life leaving behind some records, one of which is very special to him because it’s the piece of music the now dead member of the group used to play. He doesn’t even plan to put much energy (other than hope) into holding onto the girlfriend who may or may not decide to hold on to him.
So; having dealt with my own expectations about how this book should deal with me the reader and whether it should fulfill its tantalising plot destinies, I’m still sitting with a question. Why did Haruki Murakami think that the conceit of colourlessness would be a good enough rationale to let Tsukuru’s mission go almost nowhere. I’m not asking Murakami to galvanise him into pursuing the girl (if anyone is colourless it’s her with her ‘sort your baggage out so that I don’t have to deal with it in a real relationship’). But I am asking Murakami not to dangle a character like Haida and his extraordinary stories before me, let Mr Colourless have homosexual fantasies about him and then drop him out of the book entirely. No ‘pilgrimage’ should end in the same place it began.