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.