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.