Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami


The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami


In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.


Review: This review is for the English translation of a Japanese book.

This is a hard novel to review. I’m struggling to even tell you what it’s about because it’s over 600 pages and doesn’t really have a plot.

The main character, Toru Okada, has a failing marriage, no friends, no job, and no plans for the future. He’s content to lie on the couch all day and talk to random people on the phone. Then, his wife’s cat goes missing. While Toru looks for it, his wife goes missing. His search for his wife and the cat brings him into contact with psychic prostitutes, fashion designers with healing powers, troubled war veterans, demonic politicians, balding men in need of wigs, and a teenager who nearly suffocates him.

I guess suburban Tokyo is an odd place.

Or maybe all the oddness is in Toru Okada’s head. With this book, it’s hard to tell what’s actually happening and what’s only a hallucination. The psychic characters often visit Toru in dreams. He also falls through the bottom of a well and ends up in a strange hotel where he may (or may not) have murdered somebody. It’s all very mixed up.

Throughout the novel, Toru attracts weirdos who tell him their life stories. The stories are brutally realistic on the surface, but they all have undercurrents of magic running through them. The strange tales of the secondary characters are my favorite parts of the book. The imagery is vivid. The plots move forward fairly quickly. I love every single one of them.




In contrast, Toru Okada’s narrative is bland and saggy. I got frustrated with it pretty often because nothing was happening. Toru spends a lot of time staring at people or sitting in the bottom of dry wells. I was tempted to skip pages.




The only part of Toru Okada’s narrative I like is the sense of loneliness. He meets a lot of people, but he doesn’t connect with any of them. They do have an impact on him, though. After he hears the story of a former soldier who was thrown down a well, he develops an interest in wells. His interest leads him to climb into a dry well, where he gets a mysterious bruise on his face. The bruise draws the attention of a wealthy magical healer and her mute son. The healer’s money impacts Toru’s search for his wife. The novel shows how small events can change the trajectory of a person’s life.

“But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drink, the very air I breathe, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning.” – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
 
“We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person's essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?” – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

My biggest problem with this book is that it’s too long. I was bored for massive chunks of it. I don’t know if I’ll read another giant novel by Murakami, but I have a feeling his short stories are amazing. I’m looking forward to reading one of his collections.









11 comments:

  1. I find Murakami so difficult to review because so much of it is atmosphere and vague feelings that are difficult to put into words. Which is amazing in a way, because there those feelings are, put into words. I need to read this one again, it's been so long! 1Q84 is a chunkster and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think a lot more "happens" than in this one.

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    1. This book was all about the atmosphere. I’ll look up 1Q84. I like Murakami’s writing, but I also want something to happen in the books I read.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. OMG I am DYING at your Goodreads updates! They are just... A+! I mean, this book lost me at "600 pages and no plot" (let's be real, it lost me at 600 pages, period). I also applaud you for only being tempted to skip pages, I would have skipped entire chunks of it. So, well done! And the review was worth it ;) It does sound like there was some good, but not enough for me to get invested into 600+ pages!

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    1. I need to get in the habit of updating Goodreads more often. I usually read short books, and I get through them so quickly that updates are pointless. This book took me almost 2 weeks to read. I had plenty time for updates.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  3. Over six hundred pages and doesn't really have a plot? Lord! I haven't read anything by this author, although I fully intend to. I don't think this will be the one, but something. Like you said, the short stories might be excellent. I struggle with not hating every author who makes their books long just for the sake of them being long. Sometimes I find perfectly good stories, with perfectly interesting characters, and then the author rambles for what? To show their won intelligence? I don't know. I feel like it's much craftier if an author knows when to cull some of the nonsense, and if they don't, I often wonder why the publisher doesn't insist on it, especially with the crazy cost of publishing the more lengthy books.
    This may have been hard to review, but you did an excellent job. Much appreciated.

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    1. Thanks! The stories about the secondary characters in this book are spectacular (and short), so I’m looking forward to reading Murakami’s short stories.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  4. Definitely not my kind of book. "doesn't have a plot" is difficult for me. I really read to enjoy, so I don't want to work too hard, and usually the plot is what makes it easy!

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    1. Yeah, I usually want a plot, too. This book was a challenge.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  5. I am pretty sure that this book isn't for me. I don't think that I could handle such a long book with no plot. Plus how long should it really take to find a cat? Great review! I hope your next one is better for you.

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  6. I adore Murakami, but this also isn't one of my favourites by him. I prefer Kafka on the Shore or Sputnik Sweetheart, which you migggght say have more of a plot than this one? Haha, interestingly, a lot of my friends who aren't Murakami fans liked 1Q84 but I thought it was his longest work where nothing happened :P

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  7. I haven't read a novel by this author before, but I have heard a lot about how wonderful his works are, so I do want to try one of his books. I just don't think I'll be starting here, because it seems like it is a bit long winded and the lack of plot for all those pages is... not good.

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