So, I’ve been thinking all weekend about what I would say about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami because this is a book I want to say something about, that I ought to want to say something about… I’m just not sure what it is.
The book opens with the simple life of our central character – Toru Okada – starting to unravel. He quits his job, loses his cat, and starts getting obscene phone calls. These odd occurrences pile up until one day his wife mysteriously disappears (I don’t think that’s a spoiler, it’s on the back-of-the-book synopsis). The story follows Toru as he decides what to do (and what not to do) with his increasingly surreal situation. Along the way, he meets several interesting (and occasionally confusing) characters and parts of the novel relate back to Imperialist Japan in the 1930s and 40s.
In many ways, Toru is an unsympathetic protagonist – he’s a doormat for people in his life (or does he have a “zen” for accepting what life brings his way?) and rarely seems to offer up any meaningful opinion or emotion. And yet, I cottoned to him in the way I root for characters in Kafka’s books in that “no one deserves this sort of crap” underdog way. Maybe that’s what this book reminded me more of anything – Kafka – only more wryly written and approachable. The writing style is sparse (which is hard to say for a 600+pp book) and remarkably detached for being written primarily in the first person. It’s like reading someone’s account of a particularly vivid dream.
Imagery abounds in the story and Murakami never rolls out the “this is what this means” narrative at any point – and so much is left to the reader. The characters (and their choices) in the past become hazy mirrors of the ones in the present. In the end, for me the metaphors aggregate into questions: how far are you willing to go for love? What is at the heart of you – your secret inner self and how is it different than the face you show to the world? At what point would you just be willing to “give up” on life – and what does that say about the ennui that so many seem infused with today?
When I finished the other day, there was a part of me that wanted Murakami to clean up some of the loose ends, but as I’ve thought about it, I think I’m okay with it. I bet I’ll be thinking about this book for a while.
8 of 10 – I’ll be back for more Murakami I’m sure, but I think I’ll read a detective story or horror yarn or two before diving back in.