Updated on August 1, 2015
27. ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I count Murakami among my favourite writers. I read three of his books before this one – The Elephant Vanishes, Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore – and I have several more unread ones on my shelves.
About a month ago I picked up The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and decided to check when I had last read something by Murakami. I have no reviews of his books on this blog and nothing about him in the notebook I use to keep track of what I’ve read for the last three years. The last time I read Murakami, one of my absolute favourites, was literally before my records began.
Shocking I know, so I thought I’d delve back in with a nice long one, and one of his most famous: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
Usually at this point I would give a brief summary of the story, but in Murakami’s books the plot is never as neat or even as important as in other novels. With this writer, it’s more about the way he speaks to you than what he is saying. Still, I can give you an idea of how it starts. Toru Okada has just left his job and now spends his days at home, eating, cleaning up and listening to music. One day his cat goes missing and he goes to look for it in a neighbouring garden. At around the same time, he starts to receive strange, sexually explicit phone calls from a stranger.
I started this book the way I started all the others by Murakami: holding on to the mysteries and wondering when they were going to be resolved. It’s only as you go on that you realise a lot of your questions are not going to be answered, and also that it doesn’t matter. The whole thing is a mystery, a peculiar, surreal puzzle that you wallow in for a short time, and that haunts you afterwards. This is probably why I love Murakami so much, because ambiguity and lack of resolution are right up my alley. I also read him during some of my most formative reading years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if my taste was influenced, at least in part, by his style.
As is typical of Murakami, the narrative voice is strangely detached and all the characters feel isolated from one another. There are moments of connection, though, usually when one character tells another a story from their past, and in Wind-up Bird these remembrances are usually brutally violent or sexually explicit. The novel’s overall tone is calm, resigned, even tranquil (despite whatever dramatic upheavals the main character is going through), but there is an undercurrent of quite horrifying violence that sometimes finds it way to the surface.
On the whole this is another masterfully written work, apart from one cringey section about computers, which will not read well to a more contemporary audience because it’s so clearly written by someone who doesn’t know anything about them. But in the grand scheme of things that really doesn’t matter. If you want to swept up and carried along, if you love Murakami’s unique style, this book is absolutely for you.
You don’t so much read Murakami’s books as experience them.
“A person’s destiny is something you look back at afterwards, not something that is to be known in advance.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.