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Ever since reading 'Dance Dance Dance', I've proclaimed myself a Haruki Murakami fan and I immediately wanted to check out his other books. 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle', originally published in three parts between 1994-5, is one of Murakami's most well-received works, so when I saw this in WHSmith I decided it was the best way to spend the £10 gift voucher I'd received as an award for A-level grades!
Ever since Toru Okada's cat has gone missing his life has become increasingly weird. Phone calls from an unknown woman looking for phone sex, psychics appearing on his doorstep telling him incomprehensible things, the cracks appearing in the relationship with his wife, the growing popularity of his hated brother-in-law...everything is very much changing in his previously mundane life of keeping himself occupied while not in work. This is until one day when his wife doesn't return home from work and it turns out she too has run away. She claims through a letter (as does her family) that it's because she's had an affair and begs him to forget about her. However Toru is determined to find out the truth of her whereabouts whatever the cost and he heads on a mysterious mental journey, meeting a cast of unusual people along the way.
'The Wind Up Bird Chronicle' is a heavy read and far from straightforward. There are strange dream sequences, surreal characters and it's chock-full of symbolism (especially wells, cats and blue marks on your face) with things not always completely explained, yet despite this everything connects together well and it makes for a very interesting read. Murakami is the perfect storyteller through Toru Okada, with a narrative that can be emotional, erotic (ah yes, a couple of disturbing sex scenes here!) and violently nightmarish- one such scene is the horrific description of a character being flayed alive and it repeats itself in one of Toru's dreams!
Part of this is due to terrific characterisation because the story isn't just Toru's, but even he is a worthwhile lead. His character may seem like a regular guy but he goes through a lot of things that just doesn't make sense and yet he manages to take everything in his stride, and as a result I very much feel for him when his wife goes AWOL without any explanation or leads. We meet many characters who help Toru make his journey and learn their backstory in chapters via flashback, or just more about the present situations through. Since some of these are written in incredible depth as a first-person narrative for the most part we relate to these side-characters a lot with their hardships and equally strange thoughts and encounters. The Kano sisters for example are psychics who constantly visit Toru throughout most of the book and we learn about their history. For example, I found the younger sister, Creta Kano's story especially tragic: throughout her childhood she suffered utter pain in every part of her body which no-one could understand, then the pain suddenly disappeared after an accident but she suddenly feels the complete opposite instead- constant numbness. We learn the background to the main characters as well, including that of Kumiko and the outwardly popular but strangely disconcerting Noboru Wataya, whose unhappy childhoods and unstable circumstances turn out to be the crux behind the former's disappearance. Some scenes go back to the times of World War II and it's clear Murakami has done his research into the Japanese actions in Manchuria, with a clear implication to his reader that he considers the Japanese military far from moral in that regard.
I didn't mind that these stories all took up space in the novel because this is a 'chronicle'. However, I must say that by the final third these stories started intertwining among the chapters, making it difficult and confusing to keep up with the main narrative following Toru around while he was being interrupted by the tidbits of the minor character stories. It becomes very clear at this point that Murakami wrote this in three parts.
Despite my mixed feelings about the third half, the tension-filled climax and ending is surprisingly satisfying as well as far from open-ended like I thought a novel like this would be. Overall I'd fully recommend this book if you're a fan of surrealism or are just looking for something different.
The RRP of 'The Wind Up Bird Chronicle' is £9.99, but you currently find it cheapest at Waterstones for £6.79, although also available for £7.19 on Amazon.
(Review also on Ciao under the username Anti_W)
This was my first Murakami (if you discount his running diary/autobiography), and although Norwegian Wood seems to be the most highly recommended for an introduction, I took the plunge with this. As someone interested in history, I'd heard about the historical references in this.
There are so many different twists and turns- and seemingly unrelated twists become intertwined with unrelated turns. Just when you think something mundane seems to be happening, it morphs into something huge. I think this is Murakami's strength: always painting the mundane, but poetically so, and managing to fetishise urban isolation. His characters are every-day ones- they drink beer, make food, think mundane things. But it's the beauty of his writing that makes this interesting.
In short, it's supernatural, historical, mysterious, philosophical, dreamy and raises questions without ever answering them. Whether that's for the reader to decide, I don't know. I'm still wondering, and still trying to think of answers to his questions.
A disadvantage of this book is that the translation is annotated. I assume that the translators didn't think that the casual reader wants to know about what the characters are thinking when they're waiting for a bus or going to the launderette. Even then, it is a fairly long book.
I've read a few of his others, but this beats them hands down.
As an avid reader, I generally still find that if I'm finding a book a bit hard-going, I'd rather abandon it in favour of something more light-hearted. Frankly, I feel that life's too short to be battling with something, for purely entertainment purposes, that I'm not enjoying.
Yet this book was a battle. At over 600 pages paper format, and over 1000 when optimised to a comfortable font size on my Sony Reader, this was arguably one of the longest books my attention span has had to cope with. Starting the book, I was so engrossed and enjoying it so much, I cared little how many pages were left, because I was looking forward to them.
That's when it happened. I hit the dreaded wall. And for reasons I will mention in a moment, the rest of the book became an uphill slog, albeit one with so many pleasant breaks, I didn't feel as though I could just leave it.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle tells the tale of Toru Okada, a young man from Tokyo who is going through something of a mid/quarter-life crisis, and receives the help, if you can call it that, from several bizarre characters who emerge from the woodwork, sometimes literally. He starts out looking for his cat, which wife Kumiko is very worried will never return home, but before long he's searching for more answers than he could ever have imagined, and his mundane little life is well and truly shaken upside-down.
My main reason for finding this book difficult is the continual shift between styles. When Murakami is telling about Mr Okada's life (or, as he'll later become known, Mr Wind-Up Bird...don't ask), I enjoyed the sparse language used, with quirky little details dotted in. I found myself really being able to get a feel of who Mr Okada is, and could picture his home and surroundings perfectly in my head.
However, as we get a short way into the book, the characters which pop up have a dreadful habit of wanting to tell him stories. Long stories. The chapters will literally be called "Kumiko's Long Story" etc. After a couple of these, I felt myself sighing a little when the next one came up, and after listening to one or two convoluted war tales, which I could not see relating to the book especially well, I decided to skip them. Doing so meant skipping a good portion of the book, I would hazard a guess at around a quarter, because towards the end they became more and more incessant. I credit the author for changing his tone and style when different characters are doing the storytelling, whether by letter or in person, but some of these characters were dreadfully boring to me!
By the time I got to the end, Mr Okada's life had become so surreal, spread over multiple realities, I couldn't wait to find out how Murakami could possibly tie all these strange ends together into one neat package, but was pleasantly surprised. For a book that made no sense, the ending was really quite satisfactory. And the fact that it made perfect sense to me, having skipped such huge chunks of the book, only makes me more annoyed as to why these parts were included in the first place. With the characters openly admitting they had a long story to tell, every time, it almost made me wonder if Murakami was challenging himself to write the longest book possible.
That said, I really do like the prose and imagination used by this author. I will, however, be checking the page count before reading anything else by him!
Having heard good things about Haruki Murakami's most highly-acclaimed work to date, I decided it was about time I gave it a read. The story follows a thirty year old Japanese man named Toru Okada as his life spirals out of control, becoming more and more bizzare with each new mysterious stranger that enters his world. The events unfold as Toru searches for his missing cat - strangely absent from its usual territory - and copes with the traumatic fact that his wife has disappeared without so much as a goodbye.
The book oftens reads like a series of interwoven short stories. Coupled with the fact that the novel often focuses on specific aspects of Japanese culture, I was greatly reminded of the enchanting 'Ghostwritten' by David Mitchell, which I would reccommend whole-heartedly.
I frequently found it difficult to relate to the character of Toru Okada, largely because his character was never fully developed. He rarely expressed an opinion, and we learn next to nothing about his personal history. Saying that however, this could well have been the author's intention, as Toru is such a magnet for eccentric characters, it was inevitable that he would fade into the background whilst in their presence. Such personalities include those of the Kano sisters - often called upon for their psychic abilities, and frequently able to project themselves into Toru's dreams. The mysterious 'Nutmeg' too, along with her mute son 'Cinnamon' play a significant role in Toru's ever-changing circumstances.
I think it would be fair to say that the author was keen on employing many philosophical and spiritual ideas within his story: aspects of Zen, cause and effect, and even Feng Shui make an appearance. There is a certain amount of paranormal activity too, with phenomena such as the previously mentioned psychic ability, astral projection, lucid dreaming and spiritual healing. Although these ideas are prominent throughout the book, it is essentially a psychological detective story, beautifully written with an intelligent and sensitive narrative.
I found the book to be reminiscant of 'The Magus' (by John Fowles), which is similar in terms of its unusual take on psychological aspects of the personality. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is a stunning novel, and is written with such warmth and wit that I was literally unable to put it down, and whizzed through the six hundred pages in no time at all. Haunting and many-layered, it is a truly magnificant book, which I can't recommend highly enough.
*First published on Amazon.co.uk*
Haruki Murakami is possibly definable best in relation to himself; he is not considered a typically Japanese author, and his books have strongly westernised elements; however he is still unlike most western writers, and his blend of Japanese culture and history, outside influences and wildly surreal interludes verges on unique. As such, while Norwegian Wood is perhaps his best-known work, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles are probably the best showcase of his enigmatic talent.
The novel's protagonist, Toru Okada, leads a simple, stressless life. He appreciates routine, although he is not bound by it, and in the absence of employment, enjoys simple pleasures; cooking, visiting local shops and listening to music. Some of his time is also dedicated to searching for his cat, whose absence is felt rather more keenly by his wife, Kumiko, the breadwinner of the house. However, when Kumiko also disappears, the simple, ordered nature of his life begins to unwind, and in order to find his wife, Toru discovers he must step outside the passive rut he has carved for himself and go searching for some answers.
If this sounds like a missing-person thriller, I've given the wrong impression of the novel. Rather, this is a story of the way in which reality eludes those who choose to take up the offer society makes when it offers them a back-seat role in life, a passive existence empty of meaning or acknowledgement of the outside world. In choosing to actively pursue Kumiko's disappearance, Toru begins to see that his life is much more complicated and interlinked with others' than he had allowed himself to believe.
The bulk of the story takes place inside Toru's head as he tries to make sense of events, and the wandering, ponderous narrative is a reflection of this. Murakami brings across the way in which reality collides with his protagonist's sensibilities wonderfully, with broad, evocative strokes and smaller, incisive observations. The changes in Toru's life are manifested in mental and physical form; people come into his life he otherwise wouldn't have met, and these individuals, inevitably rather unusual characters themselves, lead him ever deeper into the rabbit-hole.
These characters all contribute to or complement Toru's existential angst in their own manner. May Kasahara is a worldly-wise teenage girl with a exceedingly dark sense of humour and a preoccupation with death whose conversations with Toru provide some of the most pleasantly diverting sections of the book, assisting him in opening his eyes. A young lady whom Toru meets sunbathing in her garden, her open-minded, expansive outlook sits in stark contrast to his introverted mindset, and sets him on his way on his path to enlightenment.
Along the way, Toru also runs into a pair of sisters who have a tendency to invade his dreams, Kumiko's sinister but media-adored politician brother and an elderly former Army major whose recollections of wartime Japan may have more in common with Toru's troubles than he initially presumes - each of whom offers their own, idiosyncratic perspective on affairs.
Murakami's narrative is a vast, sprawling affair - this is a hefty novel, originally published in three volumes in Japan. The storytelling in The Chronicles move around wildly, between Toru's ever-more surreal story, May's letters and the tale told by the former Major, whose wartime memories form a major part of the middle of the novel. If there's a criticism of the book, it's that occasionally Murakami overindulges a fraction, and opts against reining in his extraordinary vision a little. It's not that there's too much here, exactly - the story demands the depth it is given; the problem is that it tends to wander a little aimlessly now and then before it works out where it's going. More zealous editing would have yielded a more streamlined story, but perhaps the meandering nature is a part of the story whose absence would have been missed.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, in all its lengthy, surreal glory is the sum of its author's prodigious talents; at the same time both intimately personal and detached - a contemplation of what modern society allows people to become. It's not easy reading, but perseverance is rewarded by possibly Murakami's best novel - one in which he is able to explore the full range of his abilities and create one of the most ambitious of contemporary stories.
This novel developed from a story by Murakami called The Wind Up Bird and Tuesday's Women,which is an early version of the first couple of chapters of this book. That story was somewhat below par for Murakami, lost in translation. However, it has been expanded into what is undoubtedly Murakami's finest work. This novel moves with exceptional fluency, integrating numerous surrealist stories into a beautiful, coherent work giving the reader a valuable insight into contemporary Japanese life and the mindset of its people.
The novel is based around Toru Okada losing his cat. From this seemingly innocuous event, he goes on to find his wife has left him without saying goodbye, staying with her psychotic genius brother who Toru hates. Toru has recently quit his job and so spends his days doing very little and occasionally looking for the cat. From his searches, he meets a plethora of ever more bizarre characters such as his teenage girl neighbour who doesn't go to school because of a motorbike accident and is obsessed with death. He meets an old Army colonel who is inextricably linked to him through an old man they both knew. He learns about their time together in the Manchurian war. It is part of Murukami's skill that he can switch so effortlessly through time and place in his novels. Toru goes on to meet a fashion designer and her mute son who are not all that they seem. Throughout it all he is constantly steered by the sound of the Wind Up bird outside his house a mysterious creature that no one ever sees.
This is an outstanding novel which will genuinely change your perspective on Japanese life forever. Murukami manages to weave together surrealist imagery and Japanese social history with a poetic flair rarely seen in contemporary writing. Truly Exceptional.
'The Wind-Up Bird Bird Chronicle' is the second of Murakami's works that I've read, yet also the first piece of fiction I've read from him, having been sold to this writer via 'Underground' accounting the Tokyo subway gas attack of '95. I obtained this book as a present, and hinted at upon recommendation by MykReev of dooyoo. Anyway, 'TW-UBC' is a rather large book, composed of three books written in periods. I received it as a present the day after boxing day, and finished it just yesterday. And I must say that I'm very very impressed by this work. If there is any gripe it's that I didn't like the ending too much, I guess that I wanted a totally happy and explained ending, but I knew also not to probably expect that, especially on the closing chapters, and it is a bit long and dwindling in areas, but if you tolerate that you'll find that underlying all this is a fabulous storytelling of an unimaginable tale about love, war, pain, history and reality weaved as a "giant, metaphysical detective story"; and it's lovingly translated fluidly by one Jay Rubin. The accolades given to this book aren't false at all! The story revolves around ex-law firm worker Toru Okada who's simple and peaceful life slowly and weirdly begins to turn upside down. It starts with the trivial temporary dissapearance of their cat, and then the dissapearance of his wife Kumiko who had been showing signs of distress and oddness just prior to sudden exit. Toru being obviously upset by his wife's unexplained dissapearance shifts his attention from the cat searching and begins to look for her; not in the traditional let's-call-the-police-and-inform-the-media way, but in a more of a spiritual way. This is thrust upon Toru by the rather eccentric characters that he encounters such as the sisters Kano (Malta & Creta), the empty shelled war survivor Lt. Mamiya, and mother and daughter Nutmeg and Cinnamon an
d Ushikawa, the 'pidgeon' of the book's villain Noboru Wataya. Fortunately then he finds some semblance in newfound teen friend May Kasahara. The actual beginning of Kumiko's search begins in the well of a disused (haunted, according to the neighbourhood) house, a dry and dark well where Toru learns to leave reality for another reality, and managing to fuse the two with headnumbing consequences. There in the darkness lies a secret, an answer and a battle for restoration in two worlds. Toru's search increases in success the more he learns from the characters he meets, and putting the pieces together. Pieces which are weird and not nice but are important for him to reach Kumiko and to restore peace. There's a scraping edge to the story. There's a number of chapters in the book which in full context to me have no full relevance to the story overall in itself, maybe they do unconsciously but they seem to be little stories in themselves just to keep you on your toes with bloat and creating roundness to the main plot before progressing; this is both novel, but also a bit irritating when you just want to learn more about the main plot solely, other things such as character descriptions and the letters of May Kasahara are uncannily welcome little pieces of text however. To fully explain 'TW-UBC' is an infinite task, and a hard one at that. It can be explained, but only by reading it can you really get close to it, but even then there'll be unsolved questions over loose ends; it's a book that makes you think even after reading it. The clarity of the book is almost terrifying, in that it makes you think it could be true! Even though the book is a chronicle, it's hard to say what is the beginning, what's the middle and what's the end, the story's akin to being a shapeshifter. It's just really original, told captivatingly and has a rather abstract edge to it; it's pretty much a kind of art e
xperiment in the literally world and one that Murakami has pulled off well. When you're done reading you'll no doubt question what's real or not anymore, and you'll question things in this quest that cannot be answered and will continue to amass space in your head. It's an evergreen baseball bat to your head. This is simply a wonderful book, and 2 books in and I'm really soldered on to Murakami's work and will be purchasing more if his other works are as good as this! I am a fan, and this book is excellent!
This is the longest of Haruki Murakami's works, and for me, probably his best. It's a fairly hefty tome, weighing in at over 600 pages, but as beautifully and compellingly written as his other works. In his native Japan, the work was published in three volumes between 1994 and 1995. Like 'Norwegian Wood', the UK edition of 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle' has been translated by Jay Rubin, but as far as I can tell, Rubin has done a much better job of translating this work – the text flows very elegantly. The plot concerns a man by the name of Toru Okada. He used to work for a law firm, but left his job – not for any particular reason, he just had vague feelings of dissatisfaction. Now, he's a househusband, looking after the day-to-day chores of the house he shares with his wife, Kumiko, a magazine editor. As the book begins, their cat, Noboru Wataya, named after Kumiko's brother, has disappeared, and amongst Toru's chores for the day is searching for the cat. During the day, Toru receives a phone call from a woman by the name of Malta Kano, a "finder" who has been hired by Kumiko to find their cat. Before long, things begin to become weird. Toru receives a bequeath from a psychic that he and Kumiko used to go to when they were first married, delivered by an ex-army Lieutenant who served with the psychic during the Japanese war with Russia in Manchuria, who tells Toru an odd story about a well. And, to top it all, one day, Kumiko leaves for work and doesn't come back. Toru soon finds that his search for the cat, and for Kumiko, are oddly linked. Yes, 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle' is every bit as surreal as Murakami's other books, and again his skill at gently introducing elements of surrealism to an otherwise ordinary tale is absolutely first-rate. Almost every character we encounter has an intriguing story to tell, be it the tale of Malta Kano's tale of how she came to choose h
er name, Lieutenant Mamiya's tale of his time in a Siberian labour camp, Noboru Wataya's story of the Monkeys of Sh*tty Island, or May Kasahara's obsession with wigs. Add to this a couple of characters named Nutmeg and Cinnamon, who help Toru find a very lucrative way of making money, and Malta's sister, who is also named after a Mediterranean island, and you get an idea of the sheer number of bizarre ideas in the book. The concept of identity is again important in this work of Murakami's – several characters have changed their names, or adopt pseudonyms. Even the cat is given a human-sounding name! The concept of flow or water also seems to be very important here – every character has had some experience involving water or wells in some way. Perhaps this later observation is rooted in Japanese culture, if so, then a Western reader would miss out on the subtleties, but I don't actually think this damages the reader's enjoyment of the book particularly. Other running themes include that of people with blue marks on their faces, and the ability to hear the "wind-up" bird – a bird whose song sounds like a spring being wound up. The book is predominantly narrated by Toru, but some chapters are first person narratives by other people telling their stories to Toru. Other chapters consist of letters that Toru receives from various characters, or newspaper cuttings about events relevant to Toru's life. The book is very long, and there are a few points where it seems to drag because you're not really sure where it's going, but these are relatively few. The plot continues moving apace throughout, and the character development is supremely good. Murakami has done some thorough homework; I learnt quite a lot about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria from reading the book! The subtlety of the story is remarkable, and Murakami shows remarkable inventiveness in producing this mesmerisin
g and fascinating fable. Definitely his best work to date.
Published by Panther