The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

In a Tokyo suburb, a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat – and then for his wife as well – in a netherworld beneath the city’s placid surface.  As these searches intersect, he encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists.

Reading this novel is certainly an arresting experience. There is a cold aspect to the writing, a sense of detachment, which makes it nonetheless strangely compelling.   The relaxed tone of the narrator makes this a novel of normality and functionality of life, which heavily contrasts with the extraordinary and the imaginative (or is it supernatural?) rabbit hole it soon encompasses.

Murakami doesn’t always join the dots, or at least not in an obvious way. I like that.  Instead he encourages the reader to consider the bigger themes. It’s a thought-provoking piece of literature in many ways, crammed full with lots of symbolism and elusive connections, and one exceptionally gory scene which was a bit much, when it came to the details.

There is a rare insight into the Japanese people and their history, regarding the occupation of Northern China and the Manchurian campaigns of World War II.  The themes of how different types of power and pain that can drive a person, and how different spaces can affect the mind are a constant companion, the book is about the physical as much as the psychological.

It’s a strange book, partly due to the alienness of the culture to anyone outside Japan, but also the way that things don’t necessarily connect in a clear way.  Toru Okada in particular seeks solitude, and from this we also see each character moving independently through their own path.  This dissociation between world’s and characters give the book an illusory feel.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle does feel aimless and slow at times, but perhaps there is a suggestion that the reader must find their way through the book, as the characters attempt to do with the circumstances surrounding, and connecting their lives.

That being said it is hard to get close to any of the characters, there is little to sympathise with, although sometimes their situations do make this unavoidable. Main character Okada is so indifferent and unresisting, lacking emotion, that my reading tended to mirror that attitude.

The tone of the narration feels a little reminiscent of Kobo Abe, if my recollection of reading The Woman in the Dunes is anything to go by.  It’s enigmatic and unsettling, whilst wallowing in the mundaneness of the modern world. I felt compelled to read it, whilst conversely, not feeling an urgency to get to the conclusion.

12 Replies to “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami”

    1. Even if I hate the character, I want to at least appreciate his or her take on events, but Okada was just too passive for me to be involved with his predicament. Other peripheral characters did a better job with their character arcs.

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  1. I agree with you and Jill. I like to find some common ground with a character and to sense some kind of feeling or emotion. Could this perhaps be the fault of the translation or do you think it is the author’s intention to have the main character so passive?

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    1. It could well be the translation, or it could just be a cultural thing. Perhaps both. It has the feeling of a detached dream, where you know crazy thigns happen but just go with it, sometimes aware it is indeed a dream.

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  2. I hardly know what to say: you’re fairly noncommittal about this book. You start out as if wanting to give expected praise, but then taper off with “meh, what do you want?” Joking, but I don’t know if it’s a book I’m going to hurry to read. Thanks for being so honest. In a world of books…….

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    1. It was by turns compelling in mystery, but hardly thrilling as a character piece. I expected the pace to pick up towards the end but it was a slow read. I find it a curious book that I can’t enthusiastically recommend but also like to refer to pieces of the text on occasion.

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  3. Sounds like a good book. I just saw a Japanese movie called Shoplifters, which presents the lives of a pack of criminals, but with a psychological warmth that is unexpected. Very compelling movie. Cheers!

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    1. I will seek Shoplifters out, I am getting into my Asian movies – as is right and proper – so any recommendations are always welcome. I would be intrigued to find out your thoughts on The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

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    1. It’s very rare that I find a book I absolutely loathe but even then there is always something interesting or positive to say. This book had its good points but I couldn’t always be enthusiastic when reading it.

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  4. I read the 1Q84 books very recently and I found them much like your description of this one – there is a clinical tone to the writing and the story does seem to meander along without much seeming to happen, but nevertheless I found them compelling enough to read all three of them.

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    1. That’s the interesting thing, I felt the need to carry on reading, despite not really finding myself involved. I had heard good things about 1Q84 but I may relegate it down the list now, and try something different.

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