The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was, for me, a weighty tome to get through. I kept starting and stopping with it and eventually knuckled down to read it in about a fortnight of lengthier sittings while I had no one to see and nothing to do. I’ve spoken before about the fantastical elements and contemporary values that draw me so much to Murakami’s work and this was of no exception. While of course Wind-Up Bird is more hard-hitting, I thoroughly enjoyed this.
I think I’ll begin by offering my thoughts on the misleading blurb. Classic Murakami. Wind-Up Bird delves into much more than a missing cat and a mysteriously behaving wife. The protagonist – Toru Okada – is again a quiet, unassuming male; I always find his main characters eerily calm and passive but equally find myself identifying with their tendency (hugely generalising amongst the books I’ve read to date) for solitude. There’s an overwhelming calmness that envelopes the first third, maybe even half, of the novel, during which I found it difficult to keep reading. It meandered between slow reality and confusing fantasy and I just struggled to keep to its odd, slow pace. Note: it’s divided into three ‘parts’, for reference.
Mr Okada strikes me as a contemplative, passive and non-fussing character. I often found myself willing him to do a little more ffs, haha. The tale leads with a series of odd happenings, an odd discord within Okada’s quiet, neat, suburban life. As his wife eventually leaves him, Okada meets a series of people in his, well I want to say quest but it’s more of a relaxed amble with no direction, for answers and to find a sense of contentment.
The characters that Okada meets are wildly colourful in contrast to him. I always love this aspect of Murakami novels. The parallels that exist everywhere. Anyway, the characters he meets are depicted in wild vivacity, with meticulous attention. They’re all recurring in odd ways, each slightly linked to the other, with intricate tales to tell. In fact I think as the story unravelled with more characters introduced, I became more obsessed with the book.
It became a compelling and insistent read towards the second part, after which I was reading in the morning when I got up, on the commute, at dinner, before bed. I adored the portrayal of May Kawasuka, an innocent, fantasy driven character who truly reminded of an off-kilter Luna Lovegood. Other characters were less likeable, including Okada’s wife Kumiko and a Lieutenant, whose chapters and stories I found incredibly difficult, nauseous and somewhat distressing to read.
After a slow start, Wind-Up Bird ended up being one of my favourite Murakami reads to date. It’s certainly a more complex, contemplative one that delves deep into the way the human mind works and how fragile human connections can be. A solid four out of five from Mish today!