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Literature / A Wild Sheep Chase

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A Wild Sheep Chase (Japanese: 羊をめぐる冒険, Hitsuji o Meguru Bōken) is a 1982 novel and an early work by Haruki Murakami. It follows a narrator who, shortly after his wife divorces him, is contacted by a mysterious figure who asks him to search for a sheep with a star on its back. So begins a strange and oddly humorous journey.

The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Innuendo: "he was entered by a sheep", although the accidental is on part of the Sheep Professor. Murakami invoked this trope in a very obvious manner.
  • Amicably Divorced: The narrator's wife divorces him simply because she doesn't see any reason for them to stay together, not because she has any reason to hate him.
  • Catchphrase: The narrator finds himself saying "Just great" more and more.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: The Sheep Man.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The boss's secretary threatens to destroy the narrator and his company if he doesn't find the sheep.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The Rat kills himself once the sheep possesses him in order to avoid this.
  • Hikikomori: The Sheep Professor.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Junitaki township, which a census-taker made up based on the twelve cascades in the nearby river after the residents refused to come up with a name themselves.
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  • Living Macguffin: The sheep.
  • Magical Realism: Sheep that possess a person's body and soul, a girl with ears that can predict the future, a dead friend (projection? Ghost?) sitting, chatting drinking beer with the narrator.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The sheep, as it turns out, possesses people and uses them as a vessel, them leaves their body once they're no longer useful.
  • Mind Screw: Par for the course with Murakami.
  • Mirror Scare: The narrator is understandably freaked out when he finds out that the Sheep Man is not visible in his mirror...
  • Motor Mouth: The Sheep Man.
  • Mundane Made Awesome:
    • The narrator's girlfriend exposing her ears to him for the first time causes an entire restaurant to fall silent as the narrator stares at her in awe and recalls far-off sounds and scents.
    • The secretary's description of the sheep definitely comes off as this. Due to various circumstances, sheep are meticulously documented in Japan, and the secretary takes care to play the star sheep's mere existence as a practically otherworldly anomaly.
  • Nameless Narrative: No one in the book is ever referred to by name. This leads to two subtropes:
    • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Rat and J.
    • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Sheep Professor, the secretary, the Boss, etc.
    • In the sequel, Dance Dance Dance, we find out that his girlfriend's name is Kiki, although whether or not this was her real name is left ambiguous.
  • Posthumous Character: Turns out the Rat was this.
  • Put on a Bus: The narrator's girlfriend leaves shortly after they arrive at the house. This becomes a Bus Crash in Dance Dance Dance, where we find out she was killed in the time between.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The sheep was sleeping in a cave when the Sheep Professor came along and woke it up.
  • The Shadow Knows: Used on the original Japanese cover; see page image.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The secretary's smart clothing is brought up in the narration every time he appears.
  • Take Our Word for It: The sheep is stated to be working towards some indiscernible goal. The people that it possesses are able to see this goal but are completely unable to describe it.
  • Taking You with Me: The Rat committed suicide so that he could kill the sheep while it slept.
  • Title Drop: Twice: Once near the beginning of the book in the narration, and again towards the end, by the secretary.
  • Verbal Tic: TheSheepMan'sunusualwayoftalking. In the original though, he spoke perfectly ordinary Japanese (which is written without spaces anyway).
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: When the Sheep is done with you, and you've fulfilled your potential, it'll abandon your body and leave you an empty shell with no purpose in life. Said pretty much word for word by the Sheep Professor.