This was my third Murakami novel, prior to this I've read 1Q84 and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. By the half way point I realised this book was very different from my previous experiences with Murakami, in that this is a fairly straight forward novel, where as both Wind Up Bird and 1Q84 are long, sprawling and surreal. There are still hints of the surreal here, but there is never any melding between the plot and fantasy as I've read in his other work.
The plot for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is very simple - Tsukuru is a man nearing middle age who lives a solitary life when he starts dating a woman named Sarah. After getting together a few times, Tsukuru tells Sarah that he had once been part of a close group of 5 school friends, but as they approached adulthood, he was suddenly evicted from the group one day for no apparent reason. He becomes depressed and lives the rest of his life from this point almost friendless, working as a train station designer with a resigned acceptance of how things have turned out for him.
Sarah tells him that she doesn't want to continue the relationship until he deals with his past so she convinces him to go back and visit his old friends to find out why they had rejected him so suddenly and strongly. With this, Tsukuru sets off to talk to his old friends individually and finally learns why they had abandoned him.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a meditative exploration of a man's loneliness, confusion and search for a spark to re-ignite his enthusiasm for life after the hurt of being abandoned so unfairly by his friends. Having read 2 Murakami books previously, I wasn't expecting an ending where everything or at least something ends up neatly resolved, but this comes close at least, and for that reason the ending is more satisfying than both Wind Up Bird and 1Q84.
I wasn't a fan of the narration - the "Britishness" and "properness" of it was a mistake - Murakami is a writer of quirkiness, and while the words and characters in the novel express that, the narration doesn't.