Haruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Posted on | December 10, 2011 | 9 Comments

I’m not quite sure where to begin, but after finishing a Murakami novel, that’s not altogether too surprising. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is oft’ touted as Murakami’s best and most notable work, and that’s what I was hoping for – to be completely blown away. And yet, despite the book being bizarre and ambitious in equal measure, I was left disappointed.

The book starts out with Toru, the protagonist, looking for a cat adopted by him and his wife, that’s gone missing. Toru has quit his job, has no real ambition, and is just drifting through life, trying to figure out what is it he wants to do, while his wife brings home the money.

When the initial search for the cat is fruitless, he ventures further out to the “alley”, and ends up meeting a high-school dropout, May Kasahara. His relationship with May evolves, and is almost bordering on pedophiliac. Still no luck finding the cat, so, he ropes in Malta and Creta Kano – the two psychic sisters, both of whom have interesting life stories, and end up visiting Toru in his dreams, as well as in reality.

And then, as things go, his wife leaves home for work one day, but never returns. In due course, our protagonist discovers that she’s left him, without  a word. As one does. And then, a sequence of extraordinary events, and interactions with fascinating characters sees his life spin (or should I say, tailspin?) out of control, where he’s no longer the master of his own destiny; instead, he’s struggling to figure out what on earth’s going on.

There’s the experiences as he sits in solitude at the bottom of the dry well, and then there’s the mysterious phone calls; the dreams which aren’t really dreams, and the reality that’s a tad distorted. All of it is a bit confusing – I’m all for magical realism, but this is just a little too over the top; a little too cryptic.

The book does cover a lot – from World War II, and the story of the solider and the spy, which had me absolutely gripped, to World War II, and the story of the animals that were heartlessly massacred, which had me depressed and lamenting.

‘The officer gave his order, and the bullets from the Model 38 rifles ripped through the smooth hide of a tiger, tearing at the animal’s guts. The summer sky was blue, and from the surrounding trees the screams of cicadas rained down like a sudden shower.”

It has the obligatory contemporary political slant, which most books by Murakami (that I’ve read) touch upon, if not focus on. And, again, as expected, there’s romance that fades away; and female characters all carrying way too much baggage. Add on strange names for some of the characters (Cinnamon and Nutmeg), and even stranger life stories, and it’s all Murakami.

The thing is, I just really struggled to comprehend what was going on, and why. And then it all fizzled out, and became even more ambiguous and abstract – the second half of the book, that is. Normally, I love ambiguity and magical realism, but here, it just didn’t “fit”, I thought. Sometimes, it be that way. All the more disappointing, as I was glued to the first third/half of the book.

Have you read this much-acclaimed book? Were you as underwhelmed as I am, or is it just me?


9 Responses to “Haruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”

  1. Brooks
    December 10th, 2011 @ 9:43 am

    That’s too bad you were disappointed! Wind-Up Bird was my first Murakami and I *loved* it. I’ve been let down by his recent stuff. I feel like I’m the only person that didn’t like Kafka On The Shore and 1Q84 felt aimless.

  2. Random Reflections
    December 10th, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

    I read this a while ago, and your review made me look back at mine. As it turns out my thoughts were very similar to yours. A book of two halves…

    I am reading the Costa shortlist (first novels and novels). A mixed bunch.

  3. Annabel (gaskella)
    December 10th, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

    I ultimately liked it, but didn’t quite love it, mainly because I found Toru such an hollow shell and hard to engage with.

  4. Emily Jane
    December 10th, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

    This was my first–and last–Murakami. I felt the same way about it. The story was too long and seemingly complicated to fizzle away into total inanity like that. It read like a David Lynch film, which is not a compliment coming from me! Also, the plot, even in the first third which, like you, I enjoyed, was completely non-memorable. I read the whole review before remembering that I’d read this.

  5. softdrink
    December 11th, 2011 @ 12:38 am

    I haven’t read it, but it is sitting on the shelf. Along with 1Q84.

  6. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    December 11th, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

    I was disappointed by this book too. I thought the first half was outstanding, but agree that it fizzled out towards the end. I didn’t understand what was happening (or why) in the final section. Perhaps I’d change my opinion if someone explained it to me, but I felt the book as a whole was one of the weakest books of his I’ve read.

  7. Alex (The Sleepless Reader)
    December 12th, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

    I’ve only read one Murakami – Norwegian Wood – and was so underwhelmed that I’ve been avoiding him ever since. But so many people in the book blogsphere love him that I’m decided to try again. Many recommend this one as my next attempt, but I’m still not convinced…

  8. Sarah
    December 13th, 2011 @ 2:04 am

    Oh dear! I have this on the shelf… it might be staying there a bit a longer!

    Thank you for the review. I had been toying with the idea of trying to fit this in before Christmas and am therefore grateful for the warning. It’ll keep.

  9. Kristen M.
    December 13th, 2011 @ 3:35 am

    I think I liked this one a little more than you did but I don’t understand its place on so many readers’ lists of favorites. I almost wish it had stopped after the first two parts and not gone on into the bizarre third one.

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