The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

I think that Murakami is an acquired taste.

A front cover of the book.

If you like surreal; if you like David Lynch movies; if you like Kafkaesque craziness, then you may like this. I’ve read a couple of his fiction books before: Norwegian Wood and 1Q84, and I remember the second one in particular being very strange indeed.

It begins very innocuously with the protagonist boiling pasta, whistling along to the radio. But very quickly, Toru Okada’s life moves along a path that only belongs in the imagination of Murakami.

It’s actually more fable-like than real.

There is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice being partially played out. Toru tries to find Kumiko, his wife, who has supposedly left him. But he tries to find her by entering a deep, dark, dry well. Of course he does.

Then there are the types. Toru is a calm, generally laid back guy who is considerate and has no problem looking after the house while his wife goes out to work (before she leaves him that is). But Toru’s nemesis, Noboru Wataya, is his antithesis. Affluent, successful, power-hungry and amoral. Even their helpers are the polar opposites of each other. Cinnamon (not his real name) who aids Toru later on in the book, is quiet, graceful, beautiful, cultured. And Ushikawa, Wataya’s fixer, is physically grotesque, morally repugnant and doesn’t shut up.

Many of the other characters are caricatures or bit players. May Kasahara, Toru’s sixteen year old neighbour is the most interesting, as a voice of reason, although a slightly disturbed one. Then there are the sisters, Malta and Creta (not their real names) Kano, with psychic powers and bizarre backgrounds.

Running alongside Toru’s story, are the shockingly disturbing experiences of people in World War Two. Lieutenant Mamiya sends Toru letters of his own history, and the reasons he is a shell of a man today. Cinnamon’s mother, Nutmeg (not her real name), relates the experiences of her father, a zoo’s vet in the puppet state of Manchuria, that the empire of Japan held until the war ended, even though she wasn’t there to witness these events.

If you view it as a fairy tale, and let yourself be taken along for the ride, then it is a very absorbing read. There are stories within stories, and twists and repeating themes. You are left with a pile of questions at the end but the main ones are sort of resolved, so for me it was satisfying and a bit magical. I’ve a feeling it may frustrate some people but I really enjoyed it.

I’ve only touched on a few of the topics here, I didn’t even mention the woman giving phone-sex or the cat. Actually it is definitely a book that I’ll come back to in a couple of years’ time and re-read because there are so many layers to it. It almost feels like a puzzle that needs cracking, and each read will unlock a little more meaning.

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