Book Review: Murakami Haruki | The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

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So, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Murakami Haruki. As you may or may not know, I live in Japan, and I love my experience so far. As I was trying to rebuild a book collection, I asked around me for a recommendation. People kept talking about Murakami Haruki as the author of the century. Reviews on the web were engaging, and since I was living in his country, I decided to give it a try. So here it is, Murakami Haruki | The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

In this book, Murakami depicts the idle life of a jobless man living in Tokyo with his wife. One day, he sets off looking for their cat that mysteriously vanished. That event will soon be followed by the disappearance of the woman he loves. Now looking for both the cat and his wife, the young man finds himself thrown in a mystifying quest. In his search for answers, he will encounter a series of characters with both enigmatic and troubled personalities.

Before I start, I would like to highlight the fact that this review is based on personal experience and is, by definition, subjective to my own opinion. Anyone sharing a different perspective is welcome to comment and engage in a discussion I will be happy to be part of.

When I started “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,” I was excited about reading a novel from a Japanese author. Indeed, this was the first time for me, and I was interested to see how someone born in the country can see and depict its features.

The story takes place in modern Tokyo and does not go deep into landscape descriptions or old Japanese traditions. If you are looking for a more “Japan from the past” type of novel, I will recommend “Kokoro” from Natsume Sōseki. Back to Murakami, I was positively surprised by his writing style. Indeed, the author uses a series of short sentences that help you progress through the book without getting yourself lost in long and stylistically hard to grasp sentences. The way Murakami writes his novel, with the aid of clear metaphors and comparisons, helps you picture the story in detail. Really, one of this author’s best trick is being able to guide you in portraying the characters or imagining the scenes with precise accuracy. The first scene is a perfect example of it with Toru (our main character) cooking pasta listening to the “Thieving Magpie”. In this book, Murakami carefully builds a world and characters, both tangible and surreal; encouraging you to experience the story as if it was a vivid dream.

Another appealing thing in the novel is the presence of the themes of loneliness and self-discovery, topics that I am happy to explore at the same time as the characters. It becomes comfortable to identify oneself to the main character and the struggles he is facing, key elements to creating sympathy, and connect with the story on a deeper level. The feeling left is one of deep respect for the author and his way of using words to create a web of interconnectedness and a world of riddles.

The mystery and occultism that surrounds the well and some characters is an essential part of the intrigue and will definitely force you to turn the pages to discover why. Indeed, as Toru is leading his own quest, the reader will engage in a search for answers as well.

Because of all these aspects, I can say that I appreciate the novel for its form as literary art.

Mesmerising, surreal, this really is the work of a true original,

The Times.

Deeply philosophical and teasingly perplexing, it is impossible to put down,

Daily Telegraph.

Now, as I said earlier, the form of the book is to be admired in its construction and power to absorb you in the author’s world; however, the core story doesn’t meet my expectations, and a couple of things left me unsatisfied.

It is purely a matter of personal taste, but I was quite hesitant regarding the presence of sex right from the beginning. Sexual images should be used, in my opinion, as a tool to add another dimension to an already well-established atmosphere. In this book, the recurrent presence of sex made me feel sometimes uncomfortable, even though brought up by a stylistic genius, it left me asking myself: “Why was this necessary?” A question I will, unfortunately, be confronted with too often.

Indeed, the plot of this story doesn’t seem too jumbled, and one could expect some side plot to build a more intricate world, but the use of sub-plots and sometimes even more in-depth stories create a level of complexity too stretched it is easy to get lost. I too often found myself disoriented and wondering if what I just read was necessary or just a desire to fill out the story. I do believe there is a precise purpose to these moments in the books, but I was unfortunate not to be able to grasp them, and this made my reading experience less enjoyable. I found some of these sub-plots fascinating, but I think they could have been used better as a stand-alone story, especially the chapters on the war in Manchuria, interesting for sure, but essential to the story?

One downside I think is a result of many sub-plots is that the book is filled with stories and questions floating here and there without going any further. There is often a shift between main and secondary characters. As a matter of fact, the reader encounters several characters and their stories, leading to the expectation of seeing these stories unfold in some way. However, in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” many questions are left hanging and unanswered causing — at least that is my feeling — some frustration in not knowing and wondering why it was introduced in the first place. Of course, some things are better left to the mystery, like this ominous bird winding up its springs, but to be honest, I ended up finishing the book with one verdict: “That’s all? All these elaborate stories but no proper ending to them?”

Asking my friends their impression on the matter, they informed me that this was part of the author’s writing style and that some characters were present in different novels; therefore, some stories don’t need proper endings in this book.

“But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drink, the very air I breathe, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o’clock in the morning.”

Haruki Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

To sum up this review, I can openly say that I do acknowledge the author’s ability to transport you in his universe and use a clear structure to create a piece of literary art. The themes present in his book will please readers looking for a half-detective/half-fantasy novel exploring occultism, loneliness, and self-discovery. However, I sometimes found it hard to keep reading because of the confusion that numerous sub-plots and unanswered questions create. It really is a dreamlike experience and leaves you with this sense of blurred vision. Is it the writing style? Or maybe it is my uneducated perspective? Whatever the reason, I found myself struggling to finish the book and closed it with a mixed feeling of relief and frustration. That is why I will give a 2/5, but I will definitely read another book from Murakami Haruki as I wish to understand his complex but mesmerizing universe, maybe 1Q84?

Ryuuga A.

Originally published at https://www.ryuuga-arno.com on August 22, 2020.

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Freelance writer | Japan | Book reviews | Travel stories | Editor: Found In Japan | Web : https://www.ryuuga-arno.com/

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